Henry VIII,the Blog
The King's Reformation
Henry VIII's Minions
Francis Bryan, Nicholas Carew, William Coffin, Henry Norris – and others
This is the first blog post on the website Henry VIII, the Reign. It may well be the last because the blogger's advice that I have read is pretty hot on publishing new content – which is all well and good for some, but Henry VIII’s reign came to an end four hundred and seventy-one years ago – can there be new content?
Of course, there can!
An eminent historian once wrote about they, ‘they’ refers to Joe Public. ‘They know,’ he said ‘one fact about quite a few sovereigns. Charles I lost his head, Charles II had Nell Gwyn, George III went mad. Of Henry VIII they know two things; he made the Reformation, and he had six wives.’
But it is more than just that which ‘they’ know. Henry VIII ‘s fame rests on a story about tyrannical behaviour, a Bluebeard, a larger than life king who stamped his personality on his age and country with all the authority of a dictator. If you crossed him, you had your head chopped off. Henry VIII is England’s most famous sovereign. The reign of 1509 – 1547 is all about him, the man.
Is that an accurate perception? If ‘they’ look a little deeper into the reign they – nay, us, we – will find factions and personality, government and religion, ministers and prelates all in conflict, this reign is not all about one, man and to treat it so is to neglect history.
When was the last meaningful book about, let’s say, Cardinal Wolsey, published? Or Edward Seymour? Four hundred and seventy-eight years have passed since Thomas Cromwell was executed and the most renowned work on his life is fiction! On Thomas Darcy, there is nowt.
The King’s Reformation, Henry VIII’s Minions
Here is my take on Henry’s role in one of the most notable diplomatic events of his reign, the Treaty of London.
Pope Leo’s call for peace
In 1517 Pope Leo X had an idea. It was not an entirely new idea, it called for a crusade against Islam, a strategy used before by a pontiff to stop infighting in Christendom, unite the countries, and concentrate on a common enemy. The idea was received quite warmly from the most powerful sovereigns across the continent, Maximillian the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V King of Spain, Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England. This was all good news, and so on 6 March 1518, he proclaimed a five-year truce. Leo then sent four legates journeying out into Christendom to reinforce the peace and collect funds for the crusade.
Cardinal Legate Lorenzo Campeggio was sent to England.
The pleasures of his age
‘The king is young and does not care to occupy himself with anything but the pleasures of his age. All other affairs he neglects,’ remarked Luis Caroz de Villaragut, then Spanish ambassador in England. Included in the pleasures of Henry’s age were singing, drinking, wrestling, tennis, jousting, hunting, fornicating with Elizabeth Blount who delivered a son to him, and by no means least gambling.
Henry VIII was the second son, his older brother Arthur, who had been trained for kingship died before he could become king. Seventeen-years-old on accession Henry VIII was quickly married to Arthur’s twenty-three-year-old Spanish widow Catherine of Aragon. The new king inherited his father’s councillors and during the first couple of years of the reign most business was handled by Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester. Then as Foxe drifted into retirement, Thomas Wolsey emerged as de facto ruler of England.
Wolsey’s rise to power
Wolsey, who was educated at Magdalen School and then Magdalen College in Oxford was an experienced administrator when he arrived to serve Henry VIII. He had been in the service of Sir Richard Nanfan, Deputy Lieutenant of Calais who recommended him to the king. Wolsey had also been Dean of Hereford, during which time he fathered two children. His first position was that of Lord High Almoner (a position that Richard Mayhew, Bishop of Hereford and President of Magdalen College Oxford had recently held) and from almoner, with remarkable speed.First, in 1514 Bishop of Lincoln, and then in the same year Archbishop of York, then in 1515, he was made a Cardinal. He was an ambitious man indeed, wiser in the ways of government than his youthful king.
On his way to England, Cardinal Campeggio arrived at Calais, ready to cross the narrow sea. However, as a Cardinal legate, he was senior in rank to Wolsey, who was a mere Cardinal.
Wolsey, true to his character, was having none of that. Cardinal legate Campeggio could stay in Calais until such time as the pope granted him equal authority by promoting him to legate. And so, it was that the pope blinked first, and to save the pontiff’s peace plan, Wolsey’s wishes were granted.
The newly promoted Cardinal legate wanted more, from Rome. An enemy,Cardinal Hadrian, in cahoots with his proxy in England, Polydore Virgil, had crossed Wolsey by obstructing his initial bid to become a cardinal. Hadrian held the bishopric (absentee) of Bath and Wells. Wolsey wanted Bath and Wells for himself and would maintain the impasse until such time as Hadrian was deprived, and the bishopric was given to him – Wolsey’s influence carried all the way to Rome, and on 5 July Hadrian lost Bath and Wells to Wolsey’s gain.
At last, Wolsey satisfied, Campeggio crossed from Calais to Dover. On arrival, Wolsey told him that he had devised a better peace plan than the pope’s effort.
Usurpation of the pope’s power
While Campeggio had been languishing in Calais, indeed even before that, Wolsey had been working with the Bishop of Paris, Stephen de Poncher on a peace treaty with France, which would then be expanded to invite all the nations of Christendom to join together and sign it. Wolsey, of course, had taken soundings in advance, and before long all the major powers had signed up, followed by the smaller entities.
No one in Christendom, except the pope, wanted a crusade, it was too expensive and for many, including England, just too far away to become involved with. Wolsey had orchestrated an agreement, usurping the pope’s initiative – indeed the pope’s authority – for a five-year truce, a multilateral treaty of universal peace in Christendom. It became known as the Treaty of London and dated 2 October 1518.
‘Nothing pleases him [Wolsey] more than to be called the arbiter of the affairs of Christendom,’ the Venetian ambassador declared.
But where was Henry VIII in all this?
Probably with his minions, singing, drinking, wrestling, playing tennis, jousting, hunting, fornicating with Elizabeth Blount who delivered to him a son (the dates fit), and by no means the least gambling.
The peace treaty between France and England provided for a meeting between the sovereigns, Henry VIII and Francis I. Tentative arrangements for the meeting were made for 1519, but then the death of Maximillian, Holy Roman Emperor necessitated an election for a new emperor, a process that involved many of the sovereigns in Christendom. The meeting of Henry and Francis must be delayed.
Disappointed, Henry made a promise not to shave until he did meet with Francis, Francis made a reciprocal promise. Wife Catherine, however, didn’t like Henry’s beard and instructed him to shave it off, and so instead he made some statement or other to the effect that he and his ‘brother’ Francis’s hearts were as one until they did meet.
‘throwing Eggs, stones and other foolish trifles at the people…’
At about that time reports came back from Paris about Nicholas Carew, Francis Bryan ‘and divers other of the young gentlemen of England and they with the French king road daily disguised through Paris throwing Eggs, stones and other foolish trifles at the people…’ Carew and Bryan were among those known as Henry’s minions.
The contemporary chronicler Edward Hall describes some lavish disguisings that Henry attended and describes the glorious apparel of the guests. At one a ‘goodly comedy of Plautus was plaied, ’On another day a joust was held attended by ‘eight young gentlemen based and barded in black velvet embroidered with gold who were against the Duke of Suffolk and eight of his band in white satin.’
And so on and so forth with this revel, joust and that gambling or drinking session. – or a combination of the lot.
Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk was at the vanguard of these ‘young English gentleman’ who Henry VIII rewarded lavishly for their companionship, but he was too familiar with his ‘mates’ during all this singing, gambling, drinking wrestling, tennis, jousting, hunting and fornicating. His cronies, Hall reports, were also all too familiar with him.
The lax behaviour was out of hand and so in May 1519, as Wolsey was attending to the affairs of state Henry VIII’s council met to discuss their king’s ‘gentleness and liberality to all persons by which they perceived that certain young men in his privy chamber not regarding his estate nor degree, were so familiar and homely with him, and played such light touches with him that they forget themselves. Which things although the king of his gentle nature suffered and not rebuked nor reproved the kings counsel thought it not mete to be suffered for the king’s honour.’
With all the raucous goings-on Henry VIII was called for a meeting with his councillors to explain himself. Something had to be done about his lax behaviour, and at least try to make him look like a king.
The reformation begins
They put their concerns to him.
The king answered that he had chosen them of his counsel for both the maintenance of his honour and for the defence of all things that might blemish the same. Whereof if they saw any about him misuse themselves, he committed it to their reformation.
Henry VIII, now aged twenty-eight, succumbed to his councillors and the reformation began. This was not, of course, the sweeping Reformation of government and religion that touched all parts of Christendom but the reformation of his singing, drinking, wrestling, tennis, jousting, hunting, fornicating and by no means least gambling playmates.
Henry was but a pawn in the Reformation, but that was well over a decade away. In this reformation, Francis Bryan, Nicholas Carew, William Coffin, Henry Norris, and others were expelled from his Privy Chamber.They were replaced by ‘four sad [serious], and ancient knights, Sir Richard Wingfeld, Sir Richard Jernygham, Sir Richard Weston and Sir William Kyngston and diverse officers were changed in all places.’
A sad indictment of a man alleged to be running the country, but couldn’t manage is own household.
Henry VIII, the Reign.
Henry VIII, the Reign.