Henry VIII, the Reign
A session of Parliament had been scheduled for 3 November 1535 but was postponed until 4 February 1536 for fear of the plague.
On 8 January 1536 news arrived that Catherine of Aragon had died the previous day at Kimbolton Castle. Reports of Henry’s reaction vary from sadness and joy, and then on the same day as Catherine’s funeral Anne de Boulogne miscarried a male foetus. Jean de Dinteville, who had comforted her at Winchester however, was never named as one of the adulterers.
Catherine’s death cleared the way, should circumstances contrive by some means to take Anne’s life also, for the king to marry freely without the yoke of the emperor and the pope’s interference. The death also paved the way for the building of bridges with Charles, and so Cromwell began to work for a reconciliation of sorts. Indeed, one of Chapuys’s clandestine sources, Gertrude Blount, Marchioness of Exeter, informed him that Henry was now claiming that he had been seduced into the marriage with Anne de Boulogne by witchcraft and that he might take another wife.
Parliament finally got underway on 4 February 1536 and one of the bills to be passed for royal assent was an act stating that all religious houses under the yearly revenue of two hundred pounds would be dissolved and given to the king and his heirs.
As if spending the earlier summer with him breathing down her neck had not been enough for Anne, in March 1536 Edward Seymour was made a gentleman of the privy chamber and a few days later, he, his wife and his sister Jane moved into the palace at Greenwich. They had an apartment that, so the story goes, Henry could reach through a private passage.
This, as might be somewhat expected, sent Anne de Boulogne into an intense rage and, with seemingly suicidal intent, on 2 April she had her almoner John Skypp preach in the royal chapel directly against the bill, protesting that the monasteries should be converted to some better use, not utterly subverted as Cromwell planned.
Here now appeared the manifest separation in anti-Roman doctrinal beliefs. The Boulogne philosophy, which was about to suffer a critical setback, would in time recover in the form of Anglicanism under the patronage of a de Boulogne daughter, Elizabeth I. The Cromwellian conviction, for now holding sway, would reached its zenith under the governance of Thomas’s kinsman Oliver Williams, who adopted Cromwell’s surname in a later generation.
As evidenced all over England today, the dissolution bill was passed, although there was an even more destructive one yet to come for the larger monasteries. After seven years, the Reformation Parliament was dissolved on Friday 14 April. As the members left that Good Friday afternoon, few of them could have envisaged a return to Westminster again in just a few weeks’ time.
Alongside his parliamentary endeavours, Cromwell, in the wake of Catherine’s death, had been negotiating with the Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys for a closer relationship with Charles. All had gone well and their talk was about to bear fruit, so much so that Cromwell now arranged for the ambassador to meet Henry with a view to formalising matters. They met and rode to court together on Easter Tuesday, 18 April.
The encounter was a disaster. The king burst into a wild rant, tripping over his enraged words and recounting every injustice he perceived Charles had ever done him. Chapuys and Cromwell’s jaws dropped; they were astounded, and all their work in preparation for the meeting was left in tatters. Cromwell, according to Chapuys’s report, ‘has taken to his bed for pure sorrow’.
He may well have done just that but in any event he later confessed to Chapuys that this was also the day he had decided to bring about the final demise of the de Boulognes. He had had it in the planning for a long time, but someone, one of them or all of them, had got to the king over that meeting on 18 April and turned him against the emperor. Enough was enough and they had to go – the whole lot of them.
The Seymours now prepared to take over. The coup began. There would be a regime change, and it was very swift and very efficient.
Cromwell’s first intrigue was centred on the rumours coming out of Flanders reporting that the king was threatened by a conspiracy conceived by those who were nearest his person. That coupled with threats made by the boastful dauphin that he would regain the title and arms that the King of England bore, and something else besides, triggered Cromwell’s action to save the king from murder.
The something more besides was construed as a union with Princess Elizabeth, who upon Henry’s death would become queen, as established by law in the Act of Succession. In such circumstances, Anne would head a regency government aided by her brother and father, with support from France. The de Boulognes would prevail as rulers of England after four hundred years waiting for what they perceived to be their right.
On 24 April, therefore, the Oyer and Terminer (hear and determine) commission was set up – and, on 27 April, less than two weeks after the previous session was dissolved, writs were issued for a new Parliament. Whatever Cromwell was proposing to do, he would be seen to do it according to the law.
Henry, of course, knew it was all coming. After all, Jane Seymour’s wedding dress needed to be ready within a month.
Mark Smeaton was the first to be detained at Cromwell’s house in Stepney, on Sunday 30 April. Anne and her brother were arrested on 2 May and joined by Henry Norris, William Brereton and Francis Weston. They were followed by Richard Page and Thomas Wyatt, both of whom were later released.
The accused were held for betraying the king according to their deeds, not their bodies – the accusation of physical relations with Anne would come later, and for now the charge was conspiracy to kill Henry VIII.
On 12 May, Brereton, Norris, Smeaton and Weston were tried and found guilty.
On 15 May, the shadowy Sir William Kingston escorted Anne and George de Boulogne to the Great Hall in the Tower of London. The trial (the hearing and determination) began and was conducted in accordance with the law of the day. Cromwell had wrested the royal sanction from the de Boulognes as they had from Wolsey. He, Cromwell, now operated the machinery of state, and this was a state trial.
The procedures applied predated the appointment of a defence counsel; cross-examination was not allowed but hearsay was admitted as evidence. The concept of justice defined as scrutiny of the facts, heard before an impartial judge, had not been devised in sixteenth-century England. This was a state trial designed to secure a verdict in favour of the state.
George and Anne were found guilty and executed on 17 May and 19 May respectively.
Henry was betrothed to Jane Seymour the day after Anne’s execution and they were married on 30 May 1536. On 5 June, Jane’s brother Edward was created Viscount Beauchamp of Hatch, Somerset, but there was still more work to do to complete the overthrow.
Parliament began on 8 June. Its principal purpose was to remove the bastard child Elizabeth from succession to the crown.
On 15 June, Mary was allowed back to court after signing articles rejecting papal supremacy.
Parliament duly passed the new succession legislation, which was followed by an act for the attainder and execution of the Duke of Norfolk’s brother Lord Thomas Howard. Howard intended to marry Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of Henry’s sister. Such a marriage presented a risk to the new regime. Howard was removed to the Tower, tried and sentenced to death but he died of an illness before the sentence could be carried out. Margaret Douglas, according to Chapuys, was also sentenced to death but escaped the gallows after pleas from Henry’s sister. The preservation of her life of course gave birth to the Stuart dynasty, with which Cromwell’s later kinsman would do bloody battle in the next century.
As a consequence of the removal of Elizabeth from the succession, Henry VIII was now the father of three bastardised children: Mary, Henry Fitzroy. and Elizabeth. The male, Fitzroy, was married to Mary, daughter of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, a formidable family union. He in those circumstances maintained the strongest claim to succeed his father. The scenario inevitably presented a danger, however, by 23 July 1536 young Henry Fitzroy was dead. The coup was over. All discernible threats had been eliminated and the way made clear for Henry to produce a Seymour king for the future rule of England.
Notes and Links Part 30
Henry VIII tricked into marriage by witchcraft and might take another wife. LP 199
Act that all religious houses under the yearly revenue of two hundred poundsshall be dissolved
Anne de Boulogne in an intense rage. LP 495
Cromwell and Concubine on bad terms, Chapuys running commentary. LP 601
Henry VIII’s rant, Chapuys running commentary 21 April. LP 699
Cromwell has taken to his bed from pure sorrow, Chapuys running commentary, LP 700
Cromwell set himself to arrange a plot. LP 1069
Thomas Cranmer on Anne Boleyn