13 February 1542 by Melanie V Taylor

13th February 1542

Susannah Parker and her sister-in-law, Margaret Horenbout, were sitting either side of the roaring fire in the Horenbout house in Charing Cross.  Their husbands had gone to the Tower to witness yet another beheading of yet another one of the king’s wives.

“Do you remember Anne Boleyn?”  Susannah asked.  Margaret looked at her sister-in-law, who sat on the other side of the fire cradling her sleeping baby son, Henry.  Margaret remembered seeing the two Horenbout siblings when they first came to London in the early 1520s.  That was the same time that the Boleyn family’s star was rising at court.

“That I do, Susannah.”  Margaret pulled her shawl tighter round her shoulders.  Outside it was snowing and the chill of the north-east wind was finding its way through every crack in the house, chilling the air in this upper room as the draughts eddied their way across the floor,  the cold breaths of air pulled in by the heat of the fire.  “That was the first time I saw your brother.  I knew then Lucas were going to be my ‘usband.”

“I think the feeling was mutual.”

“What made your father bring your family to London?”

“Cardinal Wolsey had made Father an offer of employment when he had come to the Regent’s court in 1521, but father turned him down because the workshop was doing well and he was already Margaret of Austria’s court artist.  With such a steady career, status and good income, would you want to come to England?”

“So what changed his mind?” Margaret was curious to hear it from Susannah’s perspective.  Lucas was a few years younger than his sister and his recall of those times was of being an apprentice and learning the illuminator’s art, not of the world of Ghent and the  sophisticated court of the Regent of the Netherlands.

“Luther!”  It was Susannah’s turn to reminisce, but these were disturbing memories.  Margaret waited for the other woman to continue.

“Luther’s teachings were causing a religious rift from Rome across northern Europe and Father wanted us all to be safe.  England seemed to be the right place.  King Henry had just written his Defence of the Faith and the Pope had given him the title of Defender of the Faith.  England appeared to be the bastion of the Church of Rome and for us as artists and illuminators, father knew we would have a place within the good Cardinal’s court at the very least.”

So much had changed in those seven years the Horenbout family had thrown over their life in Ghent and come to England. “Your family were so kind to us when our mother died and father decided to return to Bruges.”

“’’aving got the pair of you married off, I don’t think your father had much else to keep him ‘ere, what with you both being employed in the Royal Library.  And besides, 1529 was a difficult year, what with the king determined to divorce Queen Katharine and the Cardinal dying on his way back from York.  To my mind, Wolsey’s death was a bit too convenient.  Being a man of God I cannot believe he took his own life nor that ‘e died of natural causes.”  Margaret leant forward and put another log on the fire.

“Don’t let anyone hear you say that.  They may repeat it to ears that are not so kind as ours.”  Susannah had often thought the same.  Wolsey had not managed to secure the much desired royal divorce, and had subsequently been accused of treason dressed up in legal terms as praemunire.  After his death there had been rumours that perhaps the good cardinal has been shuffled off this earth before his time because the king wanted to avoid a trial and inevitable backlash of war from the Emperor and other crowned heads of Europe because the English king had found a Cardinal guilty of treason, which carried the mandatory sentence of death.  Who had started these rumours was not known, but to repeat such gossip courted danger and possible imprisonment.  No one wanted to upset the king, especially these days now that all the worst traits of the king’s character were becoming more and more obvious day by  day.

“It’s such gossip and rumour that has brought about young Katharine’s death, and she was a queen.”  Susannah knew the bare bones of how Henry’s fifth wife had fallen from grace, but not the detail.

“No, not this time.  There was written evidence that young Katharine was not as pure as a queen should be when she goes to the anointed king’s bed. There were love letters between her and Thomas Culpeper.   She was a flighty thing, but her guilt was provable, unlike that of Boleyn’s.  Now that was a case of evidence being overheard – or manufactured, more like.”

The noise of footsteps made by several pairs of boots could be heard coming up the stairs.  Considering the dangerous nature of their conversation the women held their breath.  The door opened and Margaret’s husband Lucas, Susannah’s husband John Gwilim and last, Hans Holbein, entered.  Holbein closed the door and joined the other two men standing with their backs to the roaring fire to warm their legs and rubbing their hands to get the blood back into their fingers.  Margaret leant forward and thrust the mulling poker deep into the yellow coals.  Mulled wine was what was needed to warm them all and the jug and mugs stood prepared on the hearth warming.  The expressions on the men’s faces were grim.

“So ‘tis done then.”  Susannah was the one to break the mournful silence that had settled over the room.

“Aye, she was a defiant little thing at the last.” Gwilim paused.  “Considering how she had screamed when she was taken to the Tower and today had to be helped to the scaffold, her last words were surprising.”

“Go on then, husband.  What were they?”  Susannah was morbidly curious to know how anyone could be defiant when facing the axe man. The two women were agog to know what had been said.

Lucas, now feeling warmer, drew up a settle so the three men could sit directly in front of the fire, and Margaret prepared the large jug of mulled wine and poured five earthenware beakers to their brims.  The air became scented with the smell of cloves and nutmeg and just a hint of cinnamon as the hot poker spluttered as it hit and warmed the contents of the jug.  Lucas gathered his thoughts.  He was still not sure how he felt about this morning’s beheadings.  He and Holbein had sketched the two women as they had gone to their deaths and even though he had not liked Lady Rochford, Lucas had felt for her because she had been the second one to kneel to the block.  Her last sight of this world would have been of the spreading wet pool of blood of young queen Katharine.

Taking a long pull on the hot wine, John Gwilim leaned back.  “Katharine said that although she dies a queen of England she would rather be the wife of Culpepper.”

“No!” the women chorused.  They wondered who it would be that told Henry these words.  Margaret had witnessed many executions on Tower Hill and, without exception, all the condemned had acknowledged the justice of their punishment and asked for forgiveness of their sins and for betraying their king.

“I suppose she had nothing to lose by declaring her love for Culpepper.”

“His head is stuck on a pike and she would have seen that as she entered the Tower walls.”  Lucas held out his mug for more wine.  “History will tell that she asked for the forgiveness of the king, but perhaps those who heard her will repeat her true words, but it won’t be those that are told to Henry.”

“You have to wonder why Henry is so fond of parting the heads from the shoulders of those who cross him.”  This time it was Holbein who spoke.

‘’’e does it because he can, Hans.”  Gwilim said softly.  “It makes them that might think Kin ‘enry’s too old to rule or that they ‘ave a better claim to the throne, think twice.

“Remember that Henry’s father was none too sure about the legitimacy of his claim, which was why he married Elizabeth of York.  You would have thought that having the daughter of Edward IV as your mother would allay any fears you had on that score.” Margaret knew she was talking out of place, but her husband, Lucas, had never been one to treat a woman as a mindless minion; he respected her mind and her talent.  She too was an artist, but she knew she was not as good as her sister-in-law, Susannah.

“Ever since Edward IV came to the throne, there were rumours that ‘is father wasn’t who everyone assumed ‘e was.” Gwilim tossed this little gem of ancient gossip into the conversation and the others looked at him in astonishment.  Coming from Europe, Lucas, Susannah and Holbein did not know all the tittle tattle and rumours of the parentage of Edward IV.  “My father told me that King Edward was so different from his black ‘earted brother, Richard, that it was obvious they did not come from the same stable, so ‘tis no wonder that Richard ‘ad Edward’s two sons clapped in the Tower after their father’s death in 1483, and that was why they disappeared.”

“I did not know that.”  Holbein’s voice was still heavily accented despite him having been in England for the better part of eighteen years.  “All I know is that Henry is fickle.  Look how he treated Anna of Cleves.  She is a pretty woman despite what he says.  She’s clever too – probably one of the most politically aware of all of Henry’s wives, which is why she has survived.”

“Unlike the other Anne!”  Lucas snorted.

“Oh yes, Mistress Boleyn certainly had a very high opinion of herself.”  Susannah remembered the hefty slap she had received because Queen Anne had not liked a sketch Susannah had done of the two year old Princess Elizabeth.  “She was far too free with her thoughts and often made Henry look foolish with her quick tongue. When she got that crown on her head she would have done well to remember that a queen is supposed to set the example for all women to follow.”

Lucas nodded in agreement.  He had not had very much contact with Queen Anne, or any of the king’s women.  His sister, on the other hand, had not needed a chaperone to be in the company of a queen or a princess and had painted both the king and his first queen many times, as well as the Princess Mary.  The tiny portrait miniatures of the king that he created on documents and other manuscripts, and the stand alone ones Susannah had made of the queen and princess, had set a fashion that had quickly caught the imagination of those at court.

Lucas turned to his tall German friend.  He had taught Holbein how to mix pigments the way illuminators did and now Holbein was making a small fortune painting these portrait miniatures of the German merchants of the Stijlyard and their wives.  Holbein had painted portraits of both Susannah and her first husband as a wedding present in 1534.

Lucas, by contrast, had created the illuminations on two of the most important legal documents of Henry’s reign so far.  The Liber Niger that was kept in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, was the new book of the Tudor Knights of the Order of the Garter commissioned in 1534.  There had been many a discussion regarding the design.  Tiny portraits of all of Henry’s twenty five knights were included, but that was where the innovation stopped.  Despite his having had the Bible translated into English, Henry was, at heart, a traditionalist.

The ancient Order of the Garter went back to 1348 and the reign of Edward III.  To honour Edward’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, Lucas had studied her as she was shown on her tomb, sketching her head from every angle and had included her portrait in the document.  Queen Anne had moaned that she should have been the one to have her portrait in this new book, but Henry had stood his ground. Henry had told Lucas that he did not want some future fool assuming the king had been so arrogant as to ignore the original founder of the Order and his wife and that would be achieved by portraying Edward’s queen and not the Lady Anne.  Lucas remembered that Henry had been very insistent on this point.  Reflecting on what had happened to Anne within two years of completing this work, Lucas often wondered whether the king had begun to tire of the constant demands made by his second wife even back as far as 1534.  Despite the illuminated queen Philippa having a medallion around her neck with the initials A R on them, anyone with any knowledge of how queens signed themselves would know that this did not stand for Anna Regina.  Even though Anne had been anointed, her official signature, like that of all queens, was Anne the Quene.  Lucas wondered whether Mistress Boleyn had realised that the only reason Henry had her anointed as his queen was because she was pregnant at the time of her coronation.  Lucas had known of the royal couple’s secret wedding in the January of 1533, that had, in his eyes made the king a bigamist.  However, bigamy seemed to be tolerated by this monarch.  Had not his own brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, once been a bigamist?

The other document Lucas had been commissioned to do that year was the Valor Ecclesiasticus and that had been Cromwell’s commission for an illuminated letter and banner for the front page.

Here Henry was seated on his throne surrounded by members of the commission and the illumination carried across the top of the page, with all the symbols and emblems of the Tudors displayed in glorious colour.   The lion of England and the red dragon of Wales held the royal coat of arms in the banner immediately above the king’s head.  Lucas knew the silver shield with the red cross of St George that was in the very centre of the banner would eventually turn black as the silver leaf oxidised.  Now all the monasteries had gone so despite the document listing all the monetary values of the religious houses in England and Wales and that was a very great amount, he thought the manuscript would moulder away on a shelf somewhere in the official records.  Queen Anne had wanted the money to be invested in education, but Thomas Cromwell had had other ideas. Back then the royal coffers were empty.

“Husband, how does the young prince?”  Susannah asked, her voice intruding into her brother’s reflections of past commissions.  The king had stood as godfather to Gwilim and Susannah’s son Henry, hence the baby’s name. Gwilim was often sent to the prince’s household on errands, so was best placed to know how the child fared.

“He does well enough.”  Gwilim replied.  The warm wine was good and he was feeling more relaxed after witnessing this morning’s events.  Ever since he had married Susannah, they had enjoyed a good style of living.  She had much to thank him for as she had been virtually penniless when they had married.  Her previous husband’s will should have left her in good stead, but Parker had been married before and his relations had challenged that will successfully.  Cromwell had introduced Susannah to him and had convinced Gwilim that being married to Mistress Susannah would not be a bad thing for both of them.

“John Gwilim! Shame on you for not telling us how young Prince Edward thrives.” Margaret chided.  “’Tis these snippets of news from the royal nursery that keep us women happy, especially since Queen Jane died so quick after his birth.”

Holbein chuckled.  “Mistress Horenbout, remember how I painted the prince’s portrait as a gift for the king?  I’ve been asked to do another one now that he is in his fifth year and since I have seen him very recently, I can confirm that the young prince is very robust.  You could say that he has his carers around his little fingers.”

“What you are really telling us is that he’s a spoiled brat.”  It was Lucas’s turn to laugh.  It was well known that the five year old Prince Edward was not allowed to be disciplined for even the slightest misdemeanour and did very much as he liked.

“Oh yes, very much so.  He’s got his father’s chubby face and eyes – how do you say in England – are like a pig’s.”

“Hush Hans.  What if what you say about the prince reaches the king’s ears?”  Susannah warned.  “You’ve only just got back into Henry’s good books after the Cleve’s portrait fiasco!”

Holbein nodded, but he did not care.  It was not the king who was giving him work at court, but the Comptroller of the Royal Household.  The last commission that had come direct from the king had been for a portrait miniature of the teenage queen and Holbein had just seen her go to the block, charged with adultery and treason.

“How is it that many of those you’ve painted, except Dame Anna, have died?  It is as if your brush has the touch of death.”  Lucas teased his friend.

“I’m kept busy enough painting those merchants at the Stijlyard and they are better and swifter payers than the keepers of the royal purse strings.”  Holbein replied.

“Really?  Perhaps it is just those at court that you have captured on panel that you paint with a cursed brush.” Lucas was determined to keep Holbein defending his royal commissions.  “How many is it now? First there was Mistress Boleyn before she married; and Cardinal Wolsey.”

“Yes, that’s so,” Gwilim added.  “And Henry was very swift to remove any reminders of both of them almost immediately after Anne’s execution.  I was in charge of the removal of all the carvings and stained glass at Hampton Court in September of 1536 and the carpenters charged a pretty penny.”

“The Flemish glass makers tell me that the rood screen at the newly completed chapel in Cambridge is still intact.”  Lucas added.  “Perhaps all the references to Henry and Anne there have been forgotten by the king.”

“I still have my sketch of Anne as she went to the block.”  Holbein look down at his hands.  “That was a bad day.”

Queen Anne Boleyn (c.1500-1536). On the verso, a coat of arms of the Wyatt family, and other heraldic sketches c.1533-6

“Did you like her?” Susannah asked, rubbing her cheek as if it still stung from that slap given by the now beheaded queen so many years previously.

“She was a very interesting woman, but not very intelligent when it came to men.  Cromwell admired her enquiring mind until she went against him over how the money from the monasteries should be spent.” Holbein continued.  “But I’m not the only one who has painted a member of the royal family who is now dead.  There’s one who we can only remember from your portrait, Lucas.”

“Who’s that then.”  Lucas held out his cup for some more wine.

“Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond.”  Holbein reminded him.

“Oh yes, Henry’s bastard son.  I’d forgotten I’d painted him.”

“So it is not just me that could be said to have the brush of death.”  Holbein raised his glass and an eyebrow.  He was not going to be the only one to be reminded of just how many of those he had painted, had died.  “Yes, I know you are going to add my portraits of Cromwell to your list, but I’ve just painted ANOTHER miniature portrait of his son Gregory, and I’ve recently completed a big portrait of his wife Elizabeth, so not everyone I paint ends up in a coffin.”

“Her sister did, and you painted her!”  Susannah remembered the pall of gloom that had settled over the court after Queen Jane’s death only days after Prince Edward’s birth in 1537.  Her sister Elizabeth had married Gregory Cromwell in only weeks before in that summer.

At that moment the door opened suddenly, making everyone jump.

“Oh I hadn’t realised you had returned father.”  The Horenbout’s daughter, Jacomyne, stood in the doorway her painting smock draped haphazardly over her clothes.  “I wanted mother’s opinion on the margins you wanted painting, but I see you are all busy.”  Jacomyne started to retreat and pull the door closed.

“I would love to see them, Jacomyne.  Bring them in so we can all take a look.”  Lucas was keen to show off his daughter’s talents.

“When they are fully dry, father.  I wouldn’t want them to get smudged.”

“Don’t embarrass her, brother.”  Susannah turned to her niece.  “We will come to the workshop after dinner.  Will that be long enough for them to dry?” Jacomyne nodded, hoping the four artists would forget to come.  Holbein and her father were the most famous artists retained officially at court and she did not want either of them to look at her work too closely.  Her mother and aunt were another matter as they were not so nearly as sharp in their criticism.

After dinner Margaret made more mulled wine and Susannah sat nursing her young Henry.  She was looking forward to her infant sleeping well now she had enjoyed a delicious meal and much wine.  The five adults were the only ones still up, the rest of the household having retired after supper.

“Just out of interest, Lucas, do you think the Boleyn’s downfall was all Cromwell’s doing?”  Gwilim had his own theories, but he was not as close to the inner court as his brother-in-law.

“I do, but what’s your opinion, Hans.  Before I answer, I’d like to hear your views as you work with those who make up your designs for masques and banqueting halls, not to mention those fireplaces you design.”

The German leaned back and stretch his long legs.

“Cromwell never confided in me.  If you want to know what was in his mind, then you should ask Richard Riche.”

Both women shuddered at the mention of this name.  Riche had asked Susannah to paint a portrait of his wife and had never paid the bill.

“That man would sell his soul for a barrel of herrings if he thought it would further his career.” Gwilim had no love for a man who had been instrumental in the downfall of so many loyal subjects including Sir Thomas More,  Bishop Fisher and Lord Cromwell.  “Luckily he does not have the king’s ear, unlike Suffolk.”

Lucas nodded.  “Ever since I’ve been at court Suffolk has got away with not paying his debts, and gets his way in everything.  He is the true power behind the throne.”  He paused to wet his vocal chords; a fine dinner and more mulled wine was loosening his tongue. “I’ve never met a man without a single mote of remorse.  At one time he was a bigamist and, despite this being known, managed to avoid any retribution.  Having got away with that, he then married the king’s sister without the Henry’s permission.”

“That was long before we came to England, brother.” Susannah hoped her intervention would hush her brother from saying more.

“Yes, Henry sent Brandon, as he was then, to bring his widowed sister home after the death of Louis XII.  Personally I think it was to get as much of the dowry back into the English treasury and out of the hands of Francis than any thoughts of well-being of his sister.”

“Perhaps it was to stop Francis from marrying Mary off to a political ally?” Margaret offered.

This time it was Susannah who answered.  “When I painted her portrait for Suffolk, I remember her showing me the prayer book Louis had given her on their marriage.  I think it was by Bourdichon, but if not then it was by another equally talented artist at the French court.”  Susannah’s memories of Mary Tudor were of a kind and generous woman, who had married her brother’s best friend in order to get out of a very difficult situation.

“Mary ‘ad been anointed queen of France, hadn’t she?”  Margaret asked. She had been a very young woman in 1515 and remembered her father (one of the king’s goldsmiths) coming home from court the day that the king had received the news of his sister marrying Charles Brandon.  It had taken all of Wolsey’s skills to persuade Henry not to order the newlyweds to be thrown into the Tower the minute they set foot back on English soil.

“Surely, if she were an anointed queen rather than a queen consort, she would have had to ask Brandon to marry her, rather than the other way round?”  Susannah asked.

“I don’t know, but I would assume so.  No one would ask someone appointed by God to do anything, let alone ask them to marry them.”  Gwilim was repeating what he had heard from a member of the French Ambassador’s entourage after Mary Tudor’s death.

“She is supposed to ‘ave made Henry promise that if Louis died and there were no children from her marriage, then she would be allowed to choose her next husband for herself.”  Margaret offered.

“That sounds more like one of those bits of information put out to flatten out any gossip about Henry threatening to have them thrown in the Tower, or worse.” Gwilim replied.

“Suffolk was very quick to marry again.”  Susannah observed.

“Didn’t ‘e marry his ward, the wealthy and very young Catharine Willoughby just six weeks after Mary Tudor’s death?”  Margaret asked.  She and Lucas had been married some ten years when that had happened.  The speed at which Charles Brandon had married the teenage girl had scandalised the court, especially since she had been promised to his son, Henry.”

“Apparently Anne and Mary hated each other.”  Margaret added.

“That was because of the king’s divorce.  But Brandon hated her too.  Apparently Anne criticised Brandon publicly for his unnatural interest in young Catherine. Some gossips at court at the time thought that Brandon had already bedded the girl and Anne shamed him into marrying her.”  Susannah added.

“Sister, do you think there was any truth in those rumours?” Lucas asked.

“Mary Tudor was very ill and away from court.  We all know Brandon’s reputation when he thinks there is young flesh to be had, but I was not at court so it is only a rumour I heard, but Anne’s very public criticism of him was enough to ensure his enmity.”

“Now Mary Tudor is one member of Henry’s family I would have liked to have got to know.”  Like the others, Holbein was feeling very content after dinner.  “However, after my return from Basle, my patrons were the Boleyns and as you say, they and the Suffolk’s were not friends.  I owe much to the Boleyn’s for bringing me to the king’s attention.”

“Aye, that you do.  It is your support for the reformists that stopped you from getting more royal commissions when you first came to England.” Lucas observed.

“Yes, at first, but my introduction was to Sir Thomas More, not the king of England.”

“There you are, old friend.  Another one of your patrons who went to the block!”  Lucas could not resist another jibe at the number of Holbein’s patrons who had ended on a scaffold.

“But you weren’t the one to paint the first public portrait of the king!  All of your images of him are hidden away in documents or those tiny portraits you create.”  Holbein poked Lucas in the chest to reinforce his point.

The wine continued to flow and the mood was one of gentle playfulness. “Nor did you get sent to paint prospective brides to fill the royal bed when Henry was finally persuaded that he needed to have another brood mare to give him a spare heir.”

“And look what trouble that got you into my friend.”  Lucas was enjoying the repartee.

“What do you mean brother?”  Susannah interrupted the teasing.  “Don’t forget I too was sent to Europe when Henry decided he wanted to marry Dame Anna.”

“That’s true.  We had only been married three weeks and suddenly my wife was whipped away to spy on the Cleves court for Cromwell.”  Gwilim was not serious about Susannah being a spy.  That was a man’s work.  He had reported enough over-heard conversations to Richard Riche himself to ensure that he and his wife continued to enjoy the privileges of being members of the court.  John Gwilim was a very minor member of the royal household, but every now and again whispers not meant for his ears came in useful to pass to the king’s solicitor.

“Gwilim, that was not the case!  It was felt that because I speak a dialect sufficiently similar to that spoken in Cleves, I would be the best person to teach the new queen English.”

“And it was because you could speak this dialect you could also understand what was being said around you.”  This time it was Holbein who spoke.  “Don’t worry Susannah, I too was asked to pass on anything I heard that might be useful.  How else do you think Henry got to hear that the lovely Dowager Duchess of Milan would be happy to marry him, if she had but two heads.”

“As it was,” Susannah continued, ignoring the thoughtful expression on her husband’s face.  He could think what he liked, but now Holbein had revealed the real reason  why she had been sent to Europe, she had to somehow retrieve the situation.  “The Cleves women are very closely guarded well away from the male members of court – especially visitors, so I heard nothing of any use to Cromwell; but I was able to teach Anna enough English so she would be able to carry on a simple conversation with her prospective husband.”

“Best place for women —” muttered Gwilim under his breath.  He looked at his wife in a new light.  The thought that she had been Cromwell’s spy and had never told him, was unsettling.  It was something he would have to think about.  For the first time he realised that he owed his new position at court to his wife, and not to his own talents.  Cromwell had wanted Susannah married because that suited his purpose.  That he had been manipulated by the late Earl of Essex hurt his male pride.

“What do you mean brother-in-law?” Margaret asked.

“Women should keep out of politics and not bother their heads with such things.” Gwilim growled.  The tenor of his response turned the mood in the room sour.

“I suppose you would have us make your shirts, wash your dirty clothing, clean your houses, cook your meals and do nothing more!”  Margaret was cross at the way John Gwilim dismissed both herself and his own wife as if they were nothing more than servants.

“Gwilim,” Lucas intervened, intent on soothing the atmosphere. “we’ve just come from witnessing the execution of a young woman who didn’t think politically and did not appear to be very intelligent either.  Anna of Cleves may well have had a sheltered upbringing, but look at how she handles Henry.  She is one of the most politically intelligent people at court because she doesn’t have to be constantly vying for his favour, or is expected to produce an heir.  The truth is, he trusts her.  Think on it.  We know he talks to Anna because she is very truthful.  If you watch her, when she knows he won’t like an answer to one of his questions, she feigns she does not have the knowledge to answer him.   If all women were like young Katharine Howard the world would be a very dull place – and look at the trouble she ended up in because she was not politically clever.”

“You have also forgotten something else, husband.”  Susannah addressed John Gwilim.  Her voice was low and Lucas recognised all the signs that his sister was angry beyond anything that was reasonable and braced himself for what she might say next.   “Put yourself in Katherine’s shoes.  Henry is a smelly, obese,  lecherous, old tyrant who does not look in the mirror to see the truth.  That was why Anna first reacted the way she did in Dover when he surprised her, but she quickly realised who the old man with his ancient ‘roaring boys’ led by that other old lecherous goat Suffolk, really was.  You should listen a bit more carefully to what I tell you.  That meeting was not the disaster Cromwell had made it out to be. As the future queen of England, Anna was horrified to be invaded by a load of masked men and she thought she was being kidnapped.  However, she very soon realised that if that were the case then the kidnappers would not be a group of old men dressed up in stupid costumes of a bygone age.  Hence she was able to recover the situation and played Henry’s game.  The true report, as it was reported back to her brother Wilhelm, Henry and she sat and had a long conversation.  Remember – I was there!”  Susannah paused for breath. “You men think you are all very fine and the king is so clever, but he is nothing more than a bloated carcass that has had its day.  He still expects all the women to open their legs whenever he passes so he can satisfy his sexual fantasies, then he goes on his way hoping nothing will come of such an encounter.    Because Katharine was stupid enough to fall for the handsome Culpepper, suddenly she is a whore because she was pretty and young and because she wanted someone who wanted he.  Culpepper was handsome.  Perhaps they were in love.  Think on this.  Henry might be the king but the truth is, he can’t get it up anymore! The real reason Henry hasn’t got any more children is because he is impotent.”

Holbein rose. Revealing this truth was treason.  Looking  out of the window he saw the snow had stopped and the moon had risen.

“I shall leave you to continue your musings.”  Making a small bow of thanks to his hostess he turned to Lucas and Gwilim.  “Perhaps in view of the king’s habit of killing people whom he thinks are talking behind his back, perhaps we should not repeat anything we have talked about tonight.  Adieu my friends.”

Research Sources


College of St George, Windsor.  Archives.

St GeorgesWindsor.org

Josephine Wilkinson; Katharine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen; John Murray, 2016.

Heather Darsie; Anna Duchess of Cleves; The King’s Beloved Sister; Amberley; 2019.

Susan James: The Feminine Dynamic in English Art 1485-1603; Ashgate; 2009

Diarmad MacCulloch : Cromwell: A Life.  Allen Lane, September 2018.

Steve Gunn: Charles Brandon: Henry VIII’s Closest Friend; Amberley; 2016.

Derek Wilson; Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man; Pimlico; 2006.

Strong, Roy: Artists of the Tudor Court; Victoria & Albert Museum 1983.

Strong; Roy; The English Renaissance Miniature; Thames & Hudson 1983 and 1984.

Bibliotèque Municipale de Lyon Ms 1558.


The Horenbout family came to England in the 1520s.  Gerard Horenbout had been court artist to Margaraet of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands for Emperor Charles V.  His two children, Susannah and Lucas remained in England after the death of their mother in 1529 and Gerard returned to the Low Countries.

Susannah married twice; first to John Parker and the second to John Gwilam (aka Gilman) who were both members of the royal household.  She was part of the entourage that went to Cleves to bring Anna back to England, and that was only three weeks after her marriage to Gwilim.  Susanna and Gwilim had several children, their first Henry was born after 1540.  The king was his godfather.

Lucas married Margaret Holsewyther, daughter of a goldsmith and probably trained their daughter Jacomyne.  Lucas held the official position of King’s Pictor and was paid £33 per annum, some £3 more than Holbein. Both were paid ‘At the King’s pleasure.”  Lucas took out papers of denization and was granted a tenement in Charing Cross, with permission to take on 4 apprentices.  He was buried in the church of St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Hans Holbein the Younger came to England in the mid 1520s, with a letter of introduction from the scholar Erasmus to Sir Thomas More.  Holbein returned to Basle for a two year period returning to England in 1532.  By then the Boleyns were in the ascendant and championed Holbein and he was much favoured by Thomas Cromwell.

Holbein and Lucas Horenbout died within months of each other, of the sweating sickness.  Holbein died in November 1543 and Lucas in March 1544.  Susannah’s date of death is unknown but John Gwilim had remarried by 1555.

When it comes to identifying portraits by Susannah Horenbout, it is very difficult.  She did not hold an official position, but since she was of equal talent as her brother it is very likely that she created those miniature portraits of the royal women that differed in style from the portraits contained in official manuscript illustrations more probably painted by her brother.

© Melanie V Taylor & Tudors Dynasty