Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon Was Poisoned: So Says Eustace.
Eustace – some call him Eustache – Chapuys was ambassador for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in England, from 1 September 1529 to May 1545. He has made a significant, if unintentional, contribution to English history with his lively, detailed and perceptive despatches to Charles about the latest events in English politics.
He was a master of the arguments in the divorce case between Henry VIII and Catherine, and was appointed at her request to support and advise her as matters progressed. He arrived a few weeks after the legatine court at Blackfriars, where the divorce proceedings were held, had broken up for the summer recess, but was in time to witness the demise of Cardinal Wolsey.
The court was due to be reconvened in October, but in the meantime Henry was presented with documents that persuaded him that he was head of the church in England and the pope was irrelevant in his empire. In little over a year, the clergy had submitted to his authority. There was therefore no prospect of reconciliation between the king and Catherine. Henry was determined to have Anne Boleyn as his queen, and as a consequence, Chapuys’ duties to Catherine changed.
Balance Of Power In Europe
In Europe, the balance of power tipped between Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and Francis I, King of France, and from across the channel in England Henry VIII held sway. The support of the English on either side could tilt the balance in favour of one to the ruination of the other.
Charles V was Catherine’s nephew. Anne Boleyn was a protégé of the court of King Francis I and she was intimate with the French king’s sister.
The previous king, Henry VII, and Margret Beaufort had matched the nouveau riche Tudors with Catherine’s Hapsburg family through her marriage to Prince Arthur. With the death of Arthur and Henry VIII as king, the alliance had gone terribly wrong. Henry preferred the politically astute Anne.
Banished, Catherine refused to accept the king’s supremacy and of course any suggestion that she was not legally married to the king. Her actions incurred Henry’s wrath and so Chapuys, redundant as a divorce adviser, became Catherine’s protector from a transformed royal court with Anne now at its heart, overtly hostile to her perceived obstinacy.
Chapuys did well to help keep the peace and even Thomas Cromwell complimented him on that skill.
Catherine was held at Kimbolton Castle in Huntingdonshire with a few servants and forbidden to leave the estate. Chapuys sought permission from the king to visit her, but the king did not respond. His patience wore thin, and so as time went by the indomitable ambassador seized the initiative. To a great fanfare, he clattered through London with an escort of sixty horsemen in garish livery followed by a plodding baggage train of mules. With an archer’s salute to the king, he departed London for Kimbolton.
Eustace made a great show of his visit north to the beleaguered Catherine and travelled slowly though the towns and villages en route. So slowly indeed that on the second day a king’s messenger overtook them, galloping on ahead to Kimbolton. The king’s man returned, riding back south in good time to meet them still sauntering north, and confirmed that he had delivered the king’s order to the steward at Kimbolton not to let Chapuys into the castle.
Catherine, obviously now in higher spirits, however, had found out about the king’s order. She despatched to Chapuys and the approaching cavalcade ‘a great deal of game and venison and many bottles of wine and begged him make good cheer’. He and his retinue did, and more: they continued the merriment into the next day. At Chapuys’ behest, ‘The next morning about thirty horsemen started [out to Kimbolton] all in very good order, and they took with them a very funny young fellow who had been brought by the ambassador and who was dressed as a fool, and had a padlock dangling from his hood.’ On arrival at Kimbolton, ‘The fool as soon as he saw the ladies at the [castle] window, alighted from his horse and made as if to go into the moat of the castle crying out that he wanted to get to them.’ As a Spanish chronicler recorded, ‘He got himself in as far as his waist and everybody who was looking on thought that he was silly and cried out that he would drown.’ To finish his show three men theatrically pulled him out as he threw the padlock into the moat and shouted, ‘Take this. Next time I will bring the key.’
Perhaps not quite a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin performance, but besides bravely beating the bounds of diplomatic privilege this was an example of Chapuys’ dedication to bolstering Catherine’s spirits and maintaining her faith. Many subjects had died terrible deaths defending her and many more were yet to be butchered in the name of her complaint.
Swear And Sign Here
Spring gave way to summer in 1535 and the net closed around those who refused to accept Henry as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Now there was an oath to swear. Prevarication was prohibited and the choice was stark: to swear or not to swear, and if not so, to be executed.
On 22 June Cardinal John Fisher was executed. The famous story says he was without his cardinal’s hat. On 6 July Sir Thomas More, Henry’s former chancellor, was also executed. If they refused to swear, would Catherine and her daughter Mary follow them? Catherine is reported to have ‘despaired of the Mercy of God’, and she probably had a point.
Her appeals to Charles for help fell upon deaf ears. In the east, the emperor had problems with the Turks and in the west war drums beat in France; he did not want to heighten the problems with Henry in England.
Unpacking And Repacking
Then Catherine fell ill in December 1535. The news reached Chapuys and the worried ambassador packed and readied himself to visit her at Kimbolton. He was about to depart when news arrived that she had recovered. He unpacked and stayed at home, but not for long because Catherine had relapsed by 29 December. Chapuys, suspicious, cut short his Christmas celebrations and packed again, but on his arrival at Kimbolton, she mysteriously recovered. Catherine bid him stay a few days and he spent two hours each afternoon with her. From her being at death’s door when he arrived, Chapuys was now content to write, ‘That same evening I saw her laugh two or three times and half an hour after I left her, she wanted to amuse herself with one of my people, who entertained her.’ She was now in sufficiently good health for the relieved ambassador to take his leave. He, at least, was grateful for God’s mercy – for now.
Chapuys sense of gratitude towards God was all too brief. Upon his return to London, he had precious little time to hang up his coat because on the afternoon of 7 January 1536 Catherine died.
Poison, he reported to the emperor in his lively, detailed and perceptive despatch, and named the perpetrator as Sir Gregory di Casale.
Some say he was he was correct, others say he was wrong. All we know for certain is Eustace was closer to Catherine than we are.
Copyright: Mark Thomas-James
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