Top Ten Myths About Henry VIII

By Amy Licence

MadeGlobal’s “All About” series is the perfect choice for anyone who wants to know more about the key characters of history. The books are colourfully illustrated throughout, have a simple narrative to explain the key points in the character’s life and more detailed sections for the more- able reader or teacher. The book also contains a section of thought-provoking questions which can be used to further discussions about history.

Henry VIII is probably the most famous Tudor. He was a handsome, athletic young man; he never expected to become king and so was determined to enjoy his reign. Henry had six wives but could hate as passionately as he loved. He even had two wives executed. Henry surrounded himself with extraordinary men, including Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, and, during his reign, he changed religion forever in England. His son and daughters went on to be famous monarchs too.

Why did Henry have so many wives? Why was his reign so important?

Here are ten myths often mentioned when discussing Henry VIII

  1. Henry had six wives.

Well, yes and no. It depends on who you ask. Today we accept all the six women- Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr- as Henry’s wives and queens. He went through a wedding ceremony with each of them willingly, save for Anne of Cleves, which he wanted to wriggle out of, but it was diplomatically difficult. Yet if you asked Henry himself, he would say he had two or three true wives. According to the king, his unions with Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves were all invalid because of precontracts or other circumstances, meaning that he had been mistaken at best, deceived at worst. Henry would claim Jane Seymour as his first wife and certainly Catherine Parr as his last. His fifth wife, Catherine Howard was executed, so there was no lengthy annulment, but her precontract with Francis Dereham would have made that match invalid in the king’s eyes too.

2. Henry was huge.

At the end of his life, in his late forties and early fifties, Henry did put on weight, so this is true of that time. By his death, he had a fifty-three inch chest and a fifty-two inch waist. However, for years before this, Henry was handsome, athletic and strong. His punishing physical routine of hunting and jousting kept him in shape and he was considered to be one of the most attractive men of his day, with his red-gold hair and angelic features, as Thomas More described them.

3. Henry had syphilis.

This is very unlikely. The theory didn’t actually emerge until the late nineteenth century, when a historian identified a “ridge” on the king’s nose, in a portrait, which was supposed to indicate the final stages of the disease. However, Henry showed no symptoms of it during his lifetime and was never subjected to the contemporary mercury treatments for syphilis that his French counterpart, Francis I, took regularly. Equally, none of Henry’s children displayed signs of congenital syphilis.

4. Henry was originally intended for the church.

No, he wasn’t. It’s certainly true that Henry wasn’t intended for the throne, as he had an elder brother Arthur, who was being trained up by their father as the next Tudor king. Arthur received a very different education at Ludlow Castle, while Henry was brought up with his sisters at Eltham Palace. Yet it would have been very unlikely that his parents had ever destined him for the church and his upbringing shows no signs of it. If he had been the fourth, fifth, or sixth son, this might have been the case but, although Arthur’s death was not expected, life was fragile and could swiftly end. Henry VII and Elizabeth of York had lost a couple of children in infancy and knew the dangers. Prince Henry was raised as the spare heir but, from the age of eleven, was in line to inherit. This misapprehension may arise from descriptions of him during his teens, in which an observer commented that he was kept closeted away.

5. Henry was a big eater.

Reputedly so, but then he would have needed to eat lots to replace the calories he burned off, spending days in the saddle. There would have been no throwing the bones into the fire though, as some popular films have suggested. Impeccable manners were an essential at court.

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6. Henry was something of a prude.

This one is difficult to know, as it’s all about what happened behind closed doors. While Henry was definitely not the celebrated Romeo that Francis I proved to be, he did have mistresses and fathered at least one illegitimate child that we know of. And that’s the key to this one: it’s about what we do know and what we don’t know. Henry wasn’t so much a prude, as very private and discreet. We only know about his affair with Bessie Blount because she fell pregnant and about Mary Boleyn because it raised potential problems when he wanted to marry her sister. Without those accidents, we would know nothing about Henry’s mistresses at all. So there may well have been others.

7. Henry nearly died twice.

He did indeed! In 1536, the king suffered a terrible fall during a joust, in which his horse fell on top of him, leaving him unconscious for two hours. Then, in 1538, the ulcer on his leg became infected and he writhed in pain for over a week, reputedly turning black in the face, so that his life was despaired of. Things would have been very different in England, had either of those occasions finished him off. He must have been very strong indeed to survive both.

8. Henry was a Protestant.

No! Henry broke with the Pope and established himself as the head of the church of England but, until the day he died, he considered himself to be a reformed Catholic. It was the abuses of the Catholic church he rejected and continued to persecute Protestants as heretics. Sometimes his reforms did seem to send mixed messages, and he drew back from some of them towards the end of his life.

9. Henry executed lots of people.

Henry did not shy away from inflicting “justice.” Especially towards the end of his life, he stepped up his campaign to rid himself of his enemies, even those who had formerly been his close friends, ministers or even his relatives. After the death of Anne Boleyn in 1536, he pursued any perceived treason very harshly, with another purge of his “enemies” in 1538 and, 1541, sending the elderly Margaret Pole to the block. He was ready to make an example of those who rose against him too, ordering mass executions of those protesting against religious reform following the Pilgrimage of Grace. Those who spoke out against his regime, him, or his wives, in the 1530s and 1540s, even through reported gossip, could expect the worst.

10. Henry’s palaces were dirty and smelly.

Well, they were, but only after several weeks of the court being in residence there. Henry himself was rather a clean freak, obsessed with avoiding the bad odours and airs that were thought to spread illness. He had baths installed in his palaces, either made of stone or of wood lined with linen, all supplied by pumped water. He gave detailed instructions for the regular cleaning of his son Edward’s apartments and moved regularly to allow cleaning to take place. His close-stools were regularly changed, his laundry washed and scented, and his rooms swept and perfumed. In later years, the ulcer on his leg did emit unpleasant smells, but that was the result of illness, not lack of hygiene.

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Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at amylicence.weebly.com and her new book can be found at the following Amazon link;

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Henry VII and Catherine of Aragon; “The King and the Pauper Princess”

By Karlie (@ HistoryGal_)

“Though they cannot now see the gentle face of their beloved daughter they may be sure that she has found a second father who will ever watch over her happiness, and never permit her to want anything he can procure her…” [1] — King Henry VII of England, to King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, 28 November 1501.

I

It had been a harrowing few months for the more than one hundred and fifty passengers aboard the Spanish fleet headed to England. Seized by a series of violent storms that nearly capsized them, the weary group of travelers remained in Laredo, Spain for almost a month until the King of England sent one of his best naval captains to guide them across the Bay of Biscay.

On 2 October 1501 the fleet arrived in Plymouth: a picturesque waterfront city on the south coast of Devon. The leading nobleman of the city greeted the Spanish party enthusiastically before they escorted them to the church of St Andrews where they gave thanks for their safe arrival.

Throughout Devon, the townspeople clamored to welcome their distinguished foreign guests. But there was one girl amongst the travelers who courted particular attention. Her name was Catherine of Aragon.

Catherine was the youngest daughter of the two most powerful sovereigns in Europe: Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Growing up, Catherine spent a lot of time with her parents during their military crusades. She was even present when Ferdinand and Isabella’s army defeated the Moors in the Granada War.

Catherine learned from her parents how to effectively lead an army into battle; a skill that would come in handy when she led the English in victory against the Scots in 1513.

Thanks to her formidable mother, Catherine and her sisters received a broad education almost equal to that of their brothers. By the time she was fifteen years old, Catherine was fluent in several languages including French and Latin; she was also well versed in matters of religion, philosophy, history, and law.

It was essential for all high-born ladies of the 15th and 16th century to be proficient in domestic pastimes such as needlework, sewing, and cooking. Catherine excelled at them all as well as the more refined purists like dancing, music, and singing.

As a Princess of Spain, these skills were taught to Catherine to prepare her for the important duties of queenship. This was a role in which Catherine had been groomed for since she was three years old. It was at this young age in which she became betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales.

The details of their betrothal had been outlined in the 1498 Treaty of Medina del Campo: a formal agreement that united the Kingdoms of England and Spain. As the parents of the bride, it was Ferdinand and Isabella’s responsibility to arrange a dowry for Catherine.

They agreed to settle on a dowry of 200,000 crowns; the first half of which (100,000 crowns) was to be paid to Arthur’s father: Henry VII, upon Catherine’s arrival and the second half was to be paid at a later date.

The fact that Catherine and Arthur barely knew each other was not a concern for their parents nor was it a requirement in arranged royal marriages. Thus when Catherine came to England in 1501 her fiancé was practically a stranger to her.

Before their marriage, the only source of contact either of them had with each other was through letters.

The only surviving letter from their correspondence is one written by Arthur in October 1499. The letter (written in Latin) began with Arthur addressing Catherine as the: “Most illustrious and most excellent lady, my dearest spouse….” He went on to write: I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your highness, and how vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming. I owe eternal thanks to your excellence that you so lovingly correspond to this my so ardent love.” It ended with Arthur wishing for Catherine to be “ever fortunate and happy, and be kept safe and joyful...” [2].

Catherine was anxious to meet the love struck Prince and more anxious to fulfill her role as the Princess of Wales and the future Queen Consort of England…

But just as Catherine was set to depart from Granada to England to marry Arthur, her trip was deliberately postponed for a year.

One of the reasons for Catherine’s delayed departure was because her parents (particularly Isabella) wanted to spend more time with her before she left home forever.

Ferdinand and Isabella were also concerned about the validity of their daughter’s marriage to a Prince who was barely fourteen years old. They addressed their misgivings to King Henry and informed him that they would send Catherine to marry his son only when the latter took his vows as an adult.

Eager to gain an ally with Spain, Henry complied with the Spanish Monarch’s request. Not long after Arthur took his vows, he and Catherine were married by proxy (for a second time) on 22 November 1500.

II

Shortly after Catherine’s arrival in England, she was “… lodged at the mayor’s house in Notte-street…Here she is said to have rested for a fortnight and was then escorted by way of Tavistock, Okehampton, and Crediton, to Exeter, on her way to London, where she was received with great honour and respect….At Exeter, her residence was at the house of the Dean. She rested [there for] several days, then by short journeys [Catherine traveled] to London.” [3].

King Henry was so anxious to see the future Princess of Wales that he traveled from Richmond with Prince Arthur to Hampstead just to meet her. When they arrived at Dogmersfield House, Henry was informed by Pedro de Ayla that Ferdinand and Isabella had requested that neither he nor his son were to see Catherine until the day of the wedding.

The Spanish diplomat’s words were not well received by the King who demanded that Catherine be presented to him at once. He even remarked that he would see her “even if she were in her bed!” [4].

With the help of her ladies, Catherine was made presentable to see the man who would soon become her father in law.

After a quick introduction, Catherine slowly lifted the veil that was concealing her face. The King was relieved to find that his future daughter in law was just as beautiful as the Spanish and English diplomats had reported to him: her fair complexion, blue eyes, and long reddish-blonde hair was the embodiment of English beauty. However, Catherine could barely speak English, and she and the King had to conduct the rest of their meeting entirely in Latin. This did not bother Henry who was impressed by Catherine’s impeccable display of grace and poise.

Henry later wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella that everyone had “much admired [Catherine’s] beauty, as well as her agreeable and dignified manners” [5]. Arthur also wrote to Catherine’s parents, to tell them that he had “‘never felt so much joy’ in his entire life as when he ‘held the sweet face of his bride’ and that ‘no woman in the world could be more agreeable to him.’” [6].

What mattered most to King Henry was not only that Catherine was beautiful and had polite manners but that her dowry filled his coffers and that her marriage to Arthur strengthened the Tudors claim to the throne.

As a descendent of King Edward III’s third son John of Gaunt and his two legitimate daughters, Catherine had a stronger claim to the English throne than the Tudors did.

Henry VII’s ancestral claim to the throne came mainly through that of his mother: Margaret Beaufort. Margaret was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford. John and Katherine were later married, but their offspring were excluded from the line of succession. Henry VII’s father, Edmund Tudor, was the son of a Welsh courtier who married the widow of King Henry V: Catherine of Valois.

In any case, it was a battle, not imperial heredity that empowered the Tudors to take over the throne of England.

The Tudors reign began in 1485 when Henry VII defeated Richard III (the last Plantagenet King of England) at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Not long into his reign, King Henry was confronted by several Yorkist’s rebellions. Most notably was the 1487 Battle of Stoke Field which resulted in a decisive victory for the Tudor’s.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were initially hesitant to have their daughter marry a Prince whose father may not hold on to his position as King for long.

Before they agreed to sanction the match, Ferdinand and Isabella pressured King Henry to execute one of the claimants to the throne: Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. After wasting away in the Tower of London for fourteen years, Edward was beheaded on Tower Hill on 28 November 1499.

Sadly, Edward’s blood would not be the last spilt on Catherine of Aragon’s behalf…

III

On 12 November 1501, Catherine was escorted from Lambeth Palace into the heart of London, by some of the primer nobleman in England. During the royal parties’ procession from London to Cheapside, they stopped to watch six speculator pageants thrown in the Princess’s honor. Catherine was then taken to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence where she would remain for the rest of the evening.

The next day Catherine went to Baynard’s Castle and formally presented to her future mother in law Queen Elizabeth of York. More celebrations followed before Catherine went back to Lambeth Palace to prepare for her wedding day.

On 14th November Catherine and Arthur were married in a lavish ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral. The stone pillars of the Cathedral were draped with expensive and ornate tapestries, a “platform raised six feet high and draped in red fabric” [7] had been erected on which Catherine and Arthur took their vows, and “a special gallery [was in place] where the King, Henry VII and his Queen, Elizabeth [watched the wedding]” [8].

Trumpets blared, wine flowed through fountains, and the people cheered the Prince and Princess of Wales as they made their way from the Cathedral to Baynard’s Castle for the wedding celebrations.

Midway through the extravagant festivities, the young bride and groom were ushered into a bedchamber to consummate their marriage. After a number of ceremonial tasks were performed – which included the blessing of the marriage bed by the bishops– Catherine and Arthur were left alone….

“Willoughby!” Arthur announced to his steward the following morning. “Bring me a cup of ale, for I have been in the midst of Spain” [9].

It was those very words that would come back to haunt Catherine twenty eight years later, when her honor was questioned as well as her right to be Queen of England. Catherine would swear on her knees at the Legatine Court at Blackfriars, that “I take God to my judge, I was a true maid, without touch of man” [10]. As a devout Catholic, Catherine risked eternal damnation of her soul if she were to lie before God about the validity of her virginity prior to marrying her second husband.

But during Catherine and Arthur’s short lived marriage, the general censuses at the English court was that the couple had consummated their marriage. A contemporary scribe reported: “And thus these worthy persons concluded and consummated the effect and complement of the sacrament of marriage” [11]. However, soon after Arthur’s death Catherine claimed that this statement was untrue. Even Catherine’s duenna Doña Elvira Manuel asserted that her charge was still a virgin.

It’s possible that Arthur’s lewd statement came from the fact that, for whatever reason, he was unable to perform in the marriage bed. It’s important to note that Arthur was not the perpetually sick Prince of legend. As historian Julia Fox points out, “Arthur was no weakling. He had, said, the Marquis of Dorset, a century later, “a good and sanguine complexion; “lusty” was what Charles Brandon had heard said of the prince.” [12]

In December 1502, Arthur and Catherine were sent to live at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. There was some controversy surrounding King Henry’s decision to have his fifteen year old son and his sixteen year old daughter in law co-habitat at such a young age. Queen Isabella even wrote to him to express her concern for her daughter’s well-being.

Henry addressed Isabella’s qualms by writing to her that he and his councilors “were unwilling to allow the Prince and Princess to be separated at any distance from each other. Thus much we wished to show unto you by this our letter that you may understand our excessive love which we bear towards the most illustrious Lady Catherine, our common daughter, even to the danger of our own son.”  [13].

The decision to send Arthur to Ludlow Castle proved to be one of the worst mistakes Henry VII’s life…

IV

On 2 April 1502 Arthur Tudor died from what was thought to have been consumption (aka tuberculosis). The most likely cause of Arthur’s death was the sweating sickness; a highly contagious and often fatal disease that had spread in the vicinities of Ludlow Castle around the time Arthur and Catherine became ill.

Henry VII was at Greenwich Palace when his confessor informed him of Arthur’s death. One of the King’s heralds wrote: “When his Grace understood these sorrowful and heavy tidings, he sent for the Queen, saying that he and his queen would take the painful sorrows together [14].

Closeted in his royal bedchamber, Henry and Elizabeth wept for the loss of their eldest son. Henry was so unnerved by the tragic news that Elizabeth had to comfort him. “God had left him a fair prince and two princess,” said Elizabeth, referring to their other children Henry, Margaret and Mary. “God is where he was and we are both young enough [to have more children]” [15].

Prince Arthur was laid to rest in Worchester Cathedral on 25 April 1502. It was custom for royalty not to attend funerals, and so Catherine remained at Ludlow Castle until she recovered from the same illness that killed her husband. She was then conveyed to London in a black velvet and cloth litter that had been provided for her by Queen Elizabeth.

For several months Catherine lived under intense scrutiny at Croydon Palace until it was established that she was not pregnant with Arthur’s child.

Their daughter now a widow and childless, Ferdinand and Isabella wanted Catherine returned to Spain as soon as possible. “They also demanded that Henry should put the princess in possession of her widow’s jointure—one-third of the revenues of Wales, Cornwall, and Chester—and repay the first instalment of her dowry – 100,000 gold crowns…” [16].

The last thing King Henry wanted was to grant Catherine her jointure and to give back half of her dowry, and so while he “received their [Ferdinand and Isabella’s] proposal courteously,” [17] he would not openly commit himself to a definite course of action.

This meant that as long as Catherine lived in England her future and her financial situation remained uncertain…

V

On 11 February 1503, Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, died from a postpartum infection. The child that she bore was not the boy her husband had desired but a girl, who died at only eight days old.

Deprived of her own mother’s affection, Catherine had formed a bond with the kind and affectionate Elizabeth who used to send her gifts and request her company. As Catherine mourned the Queen’s death, so too did King Henry who “privily departed to a solitary place…and would no man should resort upon him” [18].

Two years after the death of his wife, King Henry courted several of the most eligible noblewoman in Europe, including Margaret of Austria and Catherine of Aragon’s cousin Joanna of Naples. At one point, the forty six year old English King suggested that the seventeen year old Princess Catherine should become his next wife. This idea repulsed Ferdinand and Isabella so much that the latter proclaimed that the union was “a thing not to be endured” [19].

Ferdinand and Isabella were, however, still keen on forging an alliance with the Tudor King in order to gain an ally in their war with France. A match was soon agreed upon between Catherine and Henry VII’s eleven year old son Henry, Prince of Wales. They were formally betrothed on 25 June 1503 at the Bishop of Salisbury’s house in Fleet Street. Their marriage was to take place as soon as Prince Henry reached the age of maturity.

Since she was a child growing up in Spain, Catherine believed that it was her destiny to become Queen of England. And with her impending marriage to Prince Henry she was one step closer to achieving her life’s ambition.

But the road to matrimony was not smooth sailing for Catherine. Her chief obstacle was that she was betrothed to her deceased husband’s brother. And according to canon law, it was illegal for a man to marry his brother’s widow.

This law was based on Leviticus 20:21 which states “If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”  

Catherine’s assertion that she was a virgin, if true, meant that in the eyes of the court her marriage to Arthur was null and void. Nonetheless a dispensation from the impediment of affinity was requested from the Pope.

At the request of the ailing Queen of Castile, the first draft of the dispensation was sent to Spain. Isabella was dismayed to find that “the bull clearly stated that her daughter’s previous marriage had been consummated. Catherine, it proclaimed loud and clear was no virgin.” The main issue with this statement was that “a payment of 100,000 scudos to Henry VII hung on the question of Catherine’s virginity, and on this wording the money was his.” Isabella protested the clause which prompted the Pope to amend the dispensation by replacing the word had in “had been consummated” with the word “forsan: ‘perhaps’” [20].

The final version of the papal dispensation enabling Catherine and Prince Henry to marry was ratified in August 1503. Much to King Henry’s annoyance, a copy of the dispensation wasn’t sent to him until a month later.

To cement his new alliance with the Spanish monarchs, Henry VII agreed to financially support Catherine. And for his part, Ferdinand agreed to pay the last installment of his daughter’s dowry. 

In reality, Ferdinand couldn’t afford to pay the rest of the dowry; thus he had no intention of sticking to his end of the deal. Nevertheless, he carried on the marriage negotiations as if he was going to remain true to his word.

VI

Catherine was plunged into deep mourning for the third time in three years when, on 12 November 1504, her mother (Queen Isabella) died. Isabella’s passing had profound consequences for the young Princess, not least of all because her elder sister Juana was now Queen of Castile. “This meant that “Catherine’s worth as a bride fell dramatically. She was no longer the Princess of the Iberian Peninsula, [which made] an alliance with Aragon of limited value” [21].

To make matters worse, a squabble for power ensued as Juana’s domineering husband Philip of Burgundy attempted to seize power away from his wife and from Ferdinand who still claimed a right to administer the kingdom” [22].

As a result of Catherine’s diminished social status, Henry VII became less enthusiastic about contracting his son to marry her. Henry’s misgivings about Catherine and her family strengthened, when “in an attempt to gain accession to the throne of Navarre” [23] Ferdinand married the niece of Louis XII of France.

Shortly after Ferdinand’s marriage to Germaine of Foix, King Henry reduced Catherine’s allowance. Henry began to use the remainder of her dowry to fund his own exploits. This meant that Catherine could barely afford to run her own household…

In November 1505, the impoverished Princess and her attendants were forced to move from Durham House in London to live with the English King in his palaces.

“By December 1505 Catherine’s financial situation was grave. Her father had failed to send her any money, despite repeated requests, and all King Henry had given her was a small pittance for food – she was often reduced to eating yesterday’s fish from the market. She was also in debt to some London merchants for household necessities, and the gowns she had brought from Spain four years before were so shabby that she felt, as she told her father, ‘nearly naked.’” [24].

Just four months after Catherine moved back to court, King Henry made his son renounce his betrothal to her in a private ceremony at Richmond Palace. The terms were “not acted upon”; however, it was done “so that the marriage could thenceforth be cancelled at short notice…” [25].

In 1509, Henry VII discreetly began negotiations for a marriage between his son and several European Princesses, including Catherine’s own niece Eleanor of Austria. But King Henry’s dream of a Tudor alliance with the house of Hapsburg fell apart in 1508.

Henry talked of re-opening marriage negotiations with Ferdinand if only the latter would send over the rest of Catherine’s dowry. But Ferdinand remained vague about when and in what currency the money would be sent to him…

VII

Trapped in a foreign land, surrounded by rapacious courtiers, and in the care of a pitiless father in law, Catherine wrote to her father to complain of her abject existence.

On 22 June 1505, Ferdinand wrote to the Spanish Ambassador, Dr. de Puebla, to advise Catherine “to revere and be very obedient to the King, as is her duty, and as being a means of making him love her more, and of doing more for her”  [26].

Catherine had taken her father’s advice; but since King Henry felt that it was the duty of her father to provide for her, the latter was forced to live on meager rations.

This ungallant behavior by King Henry was in stark contrast to his actions towards Catherine when she was Prince Arthur’s wife. Back then, he had been so anxious to please his homesick daughter in law that he tried to “console her by showing her his extensive library at Richmond,” he even allowed her to “choose jewelry from a selection that he produced for her perusal.” [27]

Catherine’s widowhood wasn’t entirely shrouded in misery. As historian E. Sadlack writes: “Catherine paints her situation as blackly as possible to move Ferdinand to action, and that the English in fact protested [that Catherine’s] complaints were exaggerated, [however] there can be no doubt that these were difficult years for her….”  [28].

During Catherine’s most trying times, she sought solace in her ladies in waiting; none more so than her good friend Maria de Salinas. The English King’s youngest daughter Mary Tudor – too young to be a confidante– was also one of Catherine’s closest companions.

Known for her unwavering piety, Catherine found refuge in her daily religious practices. But her rigorous bouts of fasting for Lent caused many to fear for her health. “In October 1505…Pope Julius II wrote to Prince Henry urging him to restrict the severity of Catherine’s new religious practices lest they damage her health –and (by implication, no doubt) her fertility.” [29]

The Pope and the Prince were right to be concerned over Catherine’s health. In November and December of 1505 Catherine was confined to her bedchamber after falling ill with “severe tertian fevers.” [30]

Catherine was convinced that the person responsible for most of her problems was Dr. de Puebla. Her feelings were that Dr. de Puebla’s interest lay primarily with England and its King, rather than with Spain, Ferdinand, and her wellbeing.

At the insistence of her domineering duenna, Elvira Manuel, Catherine wrote a letter to her father on 2 December 1505 to complain about Dr. de Puebla and about the pitiful circumstances she and her attendants were forced to endure. “…each day my troubles increase,” wrote Catherine, “and all this on account of the doctor Dr. de Puebla, to whom it has not sufficed that from the beginning he transacted a thousand falsities against the service of your highness, but now he has given me new trouble; and because I believe your highness will think I complain without reason, I desire to tell you all that has passed….”  [Dr. de Puebla] negotiated that the king should dismiss all my household, and take away my chamber-equipage, and send to place it in a house of his own, so that I should not in any way be mistress of it.” Catherine also did not fail to include the all-important matter of her dowry: “It appears to me that it would be better if your highness should take them [her jewels] for yourself, and should give to the king of England, my lord, his money.” [31]

Dr. de Puebla was not dismissed from his post, however Elvira Manuel was when the Ambassador became privy of a secret plot spearheaded by Elvira, her brother Juan and Catherine’s brother in law Philip I of Castile. Their plan was to set up a meeting between King Henry, Philip and his wife Juana in the hopes of cementing an alliance that would weaken Ferdinand politically.

“In December 1505, for promoting Philip’s interests at the expense of Ferdinand of Aragon Elvira [and her brother] were told to leave England. She departed on the pretext of visiting a doctor in Flanders about a disease that had already caused her to lose one of her eyes, but she knew that she would not be permitted to return. She had alienated not only King Henry but also Catherine of Aragon. Elvira spent the rest of her life amongst Spanish exiles at the court of Flanders. Catherine was said never to have spoken her name again.” [32]

VIII

After years of not receiving the additional payment of the dowry, King Henry informed Catherine that “he no longer regarded himself and his son bound by the agreement to marry her.” Ferdinand excused the lack of payment on “the trustees…and Philip for not allowing him access to the Castilian funds so that he could send the marriage portion to England.” [33]

In September 1506, Philip I of Castile died from typhoid fever, but rumors at court were that Ferdinand had poisoned him. With Philip out of the way, Ferdinand began to rule Castile in his Juana’s stead.

Once again, Catherine became a valuable asset and “like magic Henry VII became amiable again to his daughter in law. He deplored her illness now, and cordially granted her the change of residence from Eltham to Fulham that she had so long prayed for in vain” [34]. Philip’s passing also served in King Henry’s best interest because it meant that the newly widowed Juana was free to marry…

IX

Henry VII had been enamored with the blue eyed and auburn haired Juana of Castile since their unexpected encounter in January 1506. At the time, the ship transporting Philip and Juana from the Netherlands to Castile was met by turbulent storms that forced them to dock at Weymouth in Dorset. “Seizing his opportunity, Henry lured Philip inlaid and royally entertained him at Windsor Castle and Richmond Palace flattering him with lavish and costly entertainments and showering him with gifts and attention. One result was a trade agreement that was highly favorable to the English merchant guilds” [35].

When Juana was formally presented to the English court an observer recorded that King Henry was waiting to greet her, he then “kissed and embraced her”…and in spite of Phillip’s attempts to keep them apart, Juana made a favorable impression upon [him]” [36].

Shortly after her arrival, Juana was reunited with her sister Catherine for the first time in ten years; sadly, it would be the last time they would ever see each other.

Catherine wrote to Juana in October 1506, that their brief reunion gave her “great pleasure” and that she was saddened by Juana’s “sudden and hasty departure.”  Catherine added that “the great affection [Henry VII] has felt, and still feels, towards your Royal Highness from that time until now, is well known” [37].

There can be no doubt that Henry persuaded Catherine to write this letter to her sister. He had hopes of winning over Juana’s affections and her hand in marriage. Catherine hoped that if Juana agreed to marry King Henry that this would improve her own chances of marrying Prince Henry.

If Juana—who still mourned the death of her husband— were to marry again then the kingdom of Castile would fall predominantly under the control of her husband. Having secured the rule of Castile for himself, Ferdinand had no plans to relinquish control to anyone else.

Although Ferdinand would never let Juana marry Henry VII, it didn’t stop him from dangling the prospect of marriage over him as a means of control. In one of Ferdinand’s responses to Henry’s request to marry Juana, he informed him “that it was ‘not yet known whether Queen Juana be inclined to marry again’” [38].   Ferdinand’s vague response only emboldened Henry in his pursuit for Juana’s hand in marriage.

Eventually, Ferdinand had Dr. de Puebla inform him that Juana was still in mourning for her husband and that her excessive grief made her mentally unfit to marry anyone. Admitting defeat (but refusing to believe she was really insane) King Henry formally withdrew his proposal to marry Juana in June 1508.

In 1507 Ferdinand sent another Spanish Ambassador to England to negotiate Catherine’s marriage to Prince Henry. The man he chose was a politician and military commander named Gutierre Gomez de Fuensalida.

Fuensalida found credence in Catherine’s complaints about Dr. de Puebla. He reported to his master that [Dr. de Puebla] is a servant of the King of England, and although there cannot be two opposites in one man in this individual there are: his heart is English and his tongue is Castilian” [39]. Fuensalida also remarked about Catherine’s health, writing that the she was “so ill and disconsolate’ that he could barely find the words to describe her condition” [40].

Fuensalida worked tirelessly to pacify King Henry’s qualms about not receiving the 100,000 crowns that made up the rest of Catherine’s dowry. But nothing the Ambassador promised satisfied Henry.

Eventually, the King became so frustrated with Fuensalida and the talk over his son’s marriage to Catherine that he refused to meet with the Ambassador.

For several weeks, Fuensalida had to convene with Henry’s equally hostile and combative councilors. When King Henry finally permitted Fuensalida into his presence again their meeting ended disastrously. The King was once again infuriated with the Ambassador, this time for implying that he and his son were still legally bound to honor the marriage contract.

Although he was angry with Fuensalida, King Henry was willing to listen to Catherine of Aragon’s litany of complaints.

In no uncertain terms Catherine “complained bluntly to him [Henry VII] that in the forty days of Lent she had not had access to him [Henry, Prince of Wales.]” [41].

Since Prince Arthur’s death, the King had kept a tight rein on his last surviving son.  Fuensalida reported to his master that Prince Henry was “never permitted to go out of the palace, except for exercise through a private door leading to the park. At these times he is surrounded by those persons especially appointed by the king as his tutors and companions and no one else, on his life, dared approach him. He takes his meals alone and spends most of his day in his room, which has no other entrance than through the king’s bedchamber. He is in complete subjection to his father and grandmother and never opens his mouth in public except to answer a question from one of them.” [42]

Rather than address Catherine’s complaints, “Henry –accompanied by his mother— excused himself on the grounds of illness and raged at Ferdinand’s conduct, lambasting the “poor prince” who did not pay his debts and who had cruelly incarcerated [Juana].[43]

Fuensalida reported to Ferdinand that soon after the King meet with her, “Catherine’s living quarters [were] downgraded and that she was now living over royal stables” [44]. King Henry then announced that he didn’t think the marriage between the Prince and Catherine would ever happen because Ferdinand couldn’t afford to pay the dowry.

King Henry’s bad temper was exasperated by his increasingly bad health. “Shortly before Easter 1507 the king suffered a devastating attack of “quinsy’s” a peritonsillar abscess, and for nearly a week he had been unable to swallow “he was left so feeble he thought he might die.” Henry’s health was briefly restored to him but by “February 1508 he was ill again, suffering from consumption or phthisis, a progressive wasting disease, though his doctors told him it was gout again” [45].

To add to Henry’s list of grievances, Ferdinand’s refusal to support the betrothal of his grandson Charles of Ghent to his daughter Mary had caused a deeper riff to develop between the feuding monarchs.

When Henry summoned Fuensalida to discuss matters further, Fuensalida suggested to him that not only should he forgo the rest of Catherine’s dowry but that he should also call off Mary and Charles’s engagement. Naturally, Henry was upset and insulted at such an idea. After a few choice words directed at the Spanish Ambassador, Henry confronted Catherine in her bedchamber.

“My daughter,” began Henry to Catherine, “I for the great love that I have had for you have given you my two sons, both of them my heirs…and I have turned down other women who were as good as you…” he then stated that “he and his son were free,” from the marriage contract because Ferdinand had “promised [to pay the dowry] within the time that was stipulated” and failed to do so. The King also let Catherine know that he was displeased with her father for “refusing to sign the declaration…confirming the marriage of [Charles and Mary][46]

Henry’s harsh words had the desired effect because on December 1507, he convinced Ferdinand to publically consent to Charles and Mary’s betrothal.

Also in 1507 (before Fuensalida fulfilled his position at the English), “Ferdinand sent [Catherine] the formal credentials to act as his ambassador in England” [47]. Historian Elizabeth Norton writes in her book “The Illustrated Wives of Henry VIII” that Catherine’s position as Ambassador to England (the first woman to ever do so) improved her status at the English court. And although Catherine proved to be efficient in her duties, the fact remained that throughout the years of 1506-1508 she needed a more powerful person to champion her cause…

The person with whom the Princess would become the most reliant on was a Castilian friar by the name of Fray Diego Fernandez.

X

Fray Diego was officially appointed as Catherine’s confessor in April 1507. Before long, the charming yet cunning confessor was advising and controlling the young and impressionable Princess on practically every aspect of her life.

In a letter dated 4 March 1509, Fuensalida informed Ferdinand of a bizarre incident that occurred between Catherine and Fray Diego:

“King Henry had asked the Princess Katherine and Princess Mary to go to Richmond, where he intended to meet them. When the Princess Katherine was ready to start, the friar came into her room, and said to her, “you shall not go today.” The Princess, it is true, had vomited that night but was perfectly well, and the distance she had to travel was at the utmost less than one league. She therefore protested that she was not ill, and did not like to be left behind alone. The friar, however, overruled her objections in a high handed manner by his categorical command, “I tell you that upon pain of mortal sin you shall not go today.” The Princess, not daring to displease him, had no choice left, and underwent the humiliation of telling the Princess Mary…that she was unable to go ” [48].

 It’s important to remember that in this stage of her life, Catherine was naïve, vulnerable and in desperate need of ‘good counsel’. This made her an easy prey for “haughty and licentious” young men like Fray Diego, who were looking to exploit all that court life had to offer.

Catherine vehemently denied the court rumors that she and Fray Diego were lovers. However, she refused to hide her affection for him, she even went so far as to state that he was the: “best confessor that ever woman in my position had, with respect to his life as well as to his holy doctrine and proficiency letters” [49].

In 1515, Fray Diego was found guilty of ‘fornicating’ with several women at court and –despite his pleas—was sent back to Spain. Catherine wrote to her father “begging him to show the friar favor as he “has served her very faithfully all the time he was in England, and much better than certain persons pretend.” [50].

XI

In 1509, Fuensalida was recalled from his post as Spanish Ambassador after failing to convince King Henry to agree to Ferdinand’s demands.

And after spending seven years in England as a bride, widow and a virtual prisoner Catherine had had enough. Her spirits completely shattered, Catherine resigned herself to the notion that she would never marry Prince Henry. She wrote to her father in March 1509, that she wanted to go back home to Spain so that “she could spend the rest of her life serving God.” [51].

          XII

On 21 April 1509, Henry VII died at the age of fifty two from tuberculosis. He was laid to rest the following month alongside his first and only wife Elizabeth of York in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey. After ruling England for twenty three years the first Tudor King’s reign was at an end, and the crown passed on to his seventeen year old son Henry.

There is a popular legend that the ailing King made a death bed request for his son to marry Catherine of Aragon. In all likelihood this tale is merely Tudor propaganda; “conceivably, if Henry VII had lived for several more years he and Maximilian (the Holy Roman Emperor) would have arranged the Henry VIII/Eleanor match instead for around 1510-1511.” [52].

One of the reasons why Henry married Catherine was because she was young and beautiful and there was no reason to doubt she wouldn’t prove to be an amiable wife who would provide him with male children. Catherine’s long history with and close proximity to the new King made her a convenient choice for him to choose as his bride. Henry was also anxious to appease Catherine’s powerful father who urged him to marry her.

As for the rest of Catherine’s dowry, Ferdinand never paid it despite promising to Henry VII shortly before the latter’s death that the payment was ready to be sent…

On 11 June 1509 Henry and Catherine were married at Greenwich Palace. Two weeks later they were crowned King and Queen of England in a joint ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

In May 1533 Henry VIII had his marriage to Catherine annulled on the grounds that she was never really his wife because she had been married to his brother.

Catherine spent her final years at Kimbolton Castle attended by a handful of her most trusted ladies and servants. Mary’s plea to see her dying mother was denied by her father, who feared that a meeting between Mary and Catherine would result in the latter’s nephew Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor, declaring war on England.

Meanwhile, Henry was cavorting with one of Catherine’s former ladies: the young and seductive Anne Boleyn. He had destroyed his marriage and broken with the Roman Catholic Church in order to make Anne his Queen.

On 7 January 1536 Catherine of Aragon died at the age of fifty. She was buried on 29th January at Peterborough Cathedral, not as the Queen of England but as the Dowager Princess of Wales.

While the rest of the country mourned the loss of their beloved Spanish Queen, Henry and Anne reveled in it. According to the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapyus, shortly after the news broke that Catherine was dead, the King and Queen celebrated by throwing a lavish soiree at court.

Gossip began to spread that Anne Boleyn poisoned Catherine in order to rid herself of her greatest rival. Though no charge was ever brought against Anne, the basis for this heinous accusation rests largely in the results of Catherine’s autopsy. Eustace Chapyus wrote to Charles V that the chandler reported that “he found inside the heart something black and round, which adhered strongly to the concavities” [53]. Today, medical historians believe that the blackness and growth on Catherine’s heart was most likely caused by a cancerous tumor.

Catherine death and Anne’s execution weighed little on Henry’s conscience. Instead, his energy was expended elsewhere, mainly in his pursuit to produce a son to succeed him to the throne. On October 12 1536 Henry VIII’s wish was granted when his third wife Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward.

Jane died twelve days later from puerperal fever, and over the next three years Henry married Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Katherine Parr. But none of his wives lasted as long or loved him more than Catherine of Aragon did.

On 28 January 1547 Henry VIII died on the anniversary of his father’s birth. He was interred beside his third wife Jane at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

XIII

Catherine of Aragon experienced many trials and tribulations in order to become Queen of England, and unfortunately her story ended in tragedy. But was her bad luck predestined?

There is an interesting passage in historian Julia P. Geraldo’s book: “In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid.” Geraldo writes that before Catherine and her attendants reached the city of Coruna, “[they] visited Santiago de Compostela: one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Christendom. Inside the city’s cathedral, Catherine witnessed the famous butafumerio being swung. The rope holding the massive censer filled with incense broke. It was considered an ill omen for the Princess, for the story went that whenever the rope of the butafumerios snapped while the censer was swung, bad luck would follow.” [54].

Shortly after Catherine’s excursion to the Cathedral, she set sail for England to marry Arthur Tudor…

Note: Mary Tudor (daughter of Henry VII) never married Charles of Ghent aka Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor; in 1514 she married King Louis XII of France, and later Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk in 1515. Catherine’s of Aragon sister – known in history as “la Loca” – Juana, was imprisoned in the castle of Tordesillas (with her youngest daughter) by Ferdinand as he continued to rule Castile in her name. Juana never remarried.

References

  1. 37. 49. 53. “Calendar of Letters, Dispatches and State Papers Relating to the Negotiations Between England and Spain Preserved in the Archives at Simancas and Elsewhere” Volume 1. Longban,1862

2. “The Book of the Princes of Wales, Heirs to the Crown of England” Dr. Doran  (John)/ Richard Bentley, 1860

3. “A History of Plymouth” Llewellynn Frederick and William Jewitt

4. “Monarchs, Murders & Mistresses: A Calendar of Royal Days” David Hilliam

5. 9. 14. 39. 42. “Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII” Robert Hutchinson

6. “Heirs to the Throne: The Story of the Prince of Wales” Annette Joelson

  1. “Royal Weddings” Emily Brand
  2. “The Virgin Queen: A Personal History of Elizabeth I” Christopher Hibbert

10. 26. 50. “Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife” Amy Licence

11. “Elizabeth of York” A. Okerlund

12. 27. “Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile” Julia Fox

13. https://archive.org/stream/cu31924027958879/cu31924027958879_djvu.txt

15. “Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses” Sarah Gristwood

16. 17. “House of Tudor” Alison Plowden

18. “Henry VII” Stanley Bertram Chrimes

19. 26. 48. 51. 54. “In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glory” Julia P Geraldi

20. “Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England” Thomas Penn

21. “Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen” Anna Whitelock

22. “A New History of England from the Earliest Accounts of Britain to the Ratification of the Peace of Versailles, 1763” Thomas Mortimer

23. “Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King” Terry Breverton

24. 30. “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” Alison Weir

25. 52. “The Tudors” Timothy Venning

28. “The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe” E. Sadlack

29. 39. 40. 41. 43. 46. “Catherine of Aragon” Patrick Williams

31. Hanson, Marilee. “Letter of Katharine of Aragon to her father, King Ferdinand II of Aragon  2 December 1505″ <a href=”http://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-of-katharine-of-aragon-to-her-father-king-ferdinand-ii-of-aragon/”>http://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-of-katharine-of-aragon-to-her-father-king-ferdinand-ii-of-aragon/</a&gt;, February 24, 2015

32. http://www.kateemersonhistoricals.com/TudorWomenM.htm

34. “The Wives of Henry the Eighth and the Parts They Played in History” Martin Andrew and Sharp Hume

  1. “The Tudors: A Very Short Introduction” John Guy

36. “Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest” Agnes Strickland and Elizabeth Strickland

38. “The Reign of Henry VII from Contemporary Sources” Albert Fredrick Pollard

44. “Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership” Hazel Pierce

45. “The Royal Doctors, 1485-1714: Medical Personnel at the Tudor and Stuart Courts” Elizabeth Lane Furdel

47. “The Illustrated Six Wives of Henry VIII” Elizabeth Norton

48. “Calendar of State Papers, Spain: Supplement To Volumes 1 and 2, Queen Katherine; Intended Marriage of King Henry VII To Queen Juana” ed. G A Bergenroth (London, 1868)

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Karlie is a college student from the U.S. who has many interests, including reading, writing, drawing and painting. Her passion, however, is history. She loves to read about every period in history, but is most interested in the Tudor period. She is intrigued not only by the Tudor dynasty, but also by the world in which they lived; the people, the religion, the politics, the conflicts, the events, the castles, the beautiful clothes and just their overall way of life.

You can follow Karlie on twitter @HistoryGal_

 

 

Catherine of Aragon’s First Meeting with the Tudors

The following is an exclusive extract from Catherine of Aragon, An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence, available now by Amberley Publishing.

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By Amy Licence

The man that Catherine met on the evening of November 6, 1501, was approaching forty-five and had been on the English throne for sixteen years. He was described extensively by the Italian Humanist Polydore Vergil, who first came to England in 1502, just short months after Catherine’s arrival, and was welcomed at court, with ample opportunity to observe the King at this time in his life. Henry was above average height, with a slender but strong, well-built body. Vergil judged him to be “remarkably attractive” in appearance “and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking,” his eyes were “small and blue,” his complexion sallow and, by this age, his hair was grey, turning white, and his teeth “few, poor and blackish.” Two years earlier, his clothing had been described by Trevisa, another foreign visitor, who was impressed that “his Majesty wore a violet-coloured gown, lined with cloth of gold, and a collar of many jewels, and on his cap was a large diamond and a most beautiful pearl.”

Vergil also commented at length on Henry’s character, finding his “spirit distinguished, wise and prudent, his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at moments of the greatest danger, deserted him.” He had a good memory and was shrewd and prudent, so that “no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile” and knew well how to maintain his royal majesty “in every time and place.” No doubt he made Catherine fell welcome, as Vergil claimed him to be “attentive to his visitors an easy of access,” adding that “his hospitality was splendidly generous (and) he was fond of having foreigners at his court and he freely conferred favours on them.” Vergil was also critical of Henry’s harsh judgement of transgressors and his avarice, but these would only become relevant to Catherine in the coming years.

Henry was delighted with what he saw, although communication proved a little difficult. He hurried away to bring Arthur to her side and, finally, after years of correspondence, planning and anticipation, the young pair stood face to face. It was not how Catherine had imagined it, thinking she would first see her husband at the altar, dressed in her wedding finery, lifting her veil when the vows had been exchanged. Into the room came a boy who did not look unlike his father, with a long, thin face and dark eyes, sensitive mouth and fashionably cut dark hair, if his portrait of around 1499 is to be believed. In that, he poses with a white rose between his fingers, dressed in a gown of cloth of gold lined with fur, over a red doublet with gold edging, a jewelled pendant of black stones set in gold and a black hat and jewel, from which hang three pearls. Painted in oil with gold leaf on a wooden panel, it is the only surviving portrait painted during the boy’s lifetime, the closest impression of what Catherine saw at Dogmersfield.

An altarpiece depicting Henry’s family which was painted a couple of years after Arthur’s death, shows a youth with a somewhat generic face, the copy of his father’s long dark hair and eyes, wide mouth and strong nose. Other contemporary images, in a Guild Book of Ordinances and at prayer in a window at Great Malvern Priory, are similarly general and lacking in personal detail, even touched up in later years. A final image of Arthur from the 1520s depicts a more mature face, with strong nose and small mouth, the sitter wearing a gold chain of office and a red hat with a pilgrim badge, his empty right hand open before him, where the previous portrait had held a flower.

From these three images, it seems likely that the fifteen-year-old Arthur was dark in colouring, with a longish, slender face and nose, thin lips and a sensitive expression; a young king-in-waiting, wearing his learning and legacy as visibly as the marks of his status. There are definite facial similarities with a 1509 portrait of Arthur’s younger brother Henry, the future Henry VIII, about the eyes and mouth, with the boys having the same blunt, straight-cut bobbed dark hair under a black hat of Arthur’s 1499 portrait and the red gown with brown fur shown in the 1520 work. One key difference is the flower held between Henry’s fingers, which is red rather than white, emphasising his Lancastrian roots. There is no evidence to suggest that Arthur was in anything other than good health, or that his health during childhood had been poor: he was a tall, slender boy who elicited nothing but compliments from his contemporaries.

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Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at amylicence.weebly.com and her new book can be found at the following Amazon link;

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Catherine-Aragon-Intimate-Henry-VIIIs/dp/1445656701/ref=la_B008GEGNV2_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479806880&sr=1-2

 

William Brandon; Henry VII’s Standard Bearer

By Sarah Bryson

On the 22nd of August 1485 King Richard III met his death at the Battle of Bosworth field. With his death ended the rule of the Plantagenet Kings. Yet only a short time earlier in the battle anotherman had died by the very lance of Richard III. His name was Sir William Brandon and it would be his son, almost thirty years later that would become King Henry VIII’s most beloved and closest friend.

When Sir William Brandon died it is reported that he was close to Henry Tudor, proudly holding Henry standard high. Richard III charged at Henry’s standard bearer with his lance, the lance piercing through Brandon and breaking in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high’ Henry Tudor’s standard, ‘and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe’. William Brandon drew his last breath fighting for Henry Tudor to become King. Little would he know the great legacy that his death left his one-year- old son Charles Brandon the future Duke of Suffolk.

There appear to be very few facts related to William Brandon. His father was Sir William Brandon of Wangford and Southwark (b. approx. 1425 d. 1491). William Brandon Snr rose from relative security under the service of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Before the Duke died in 1476 he granted Sir William a seat in the local Parliament and also the marriage to Elizabeth Wingfield (d. 28th April 1497). William had a long list of accomplishments including becoming Marshal of the King’s Bench, Burgess (M.P) for Shoreham, Knight for the Shire of Suffolk and Collector of Customs at Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. William Brandon was also present at the battle of Tewkesbury. The battle of Tewkesbury was one of the most decisive battles in English history where Prince Edward, Henry VI’s son, was killed and the Lancastrian forces, of which William was a part of, were decisively defeated. Despite their loss William Brandon was knighted for his efforts. William must have been able to come to terms with the Lancastrian loss as he was present at the coronation of Richard III, brother of Yorkist King Edward V.

Sir William and Elizabeth Wingfield had three sons, Robert Brandon, William and the youngest Thomas. It has also been proposed that the couple also had several daughters two of those being Anne and Elizabeth although there is contradictory evidence to support this claim. William Brandon Junior was born around 1456.

There appears to be some scandal surrounding William Brandon Junior. In 1478 Sir John Paston wrote that:

‘yonge William Brandon is in warde and arestyd ffor thatt he scholde have fforce ravysshyd and swyvyd an olde jentylwoman , and yitt was nott therwith easysd, butt swyvyd hyr oldest dowtr, and than wolde have swyvyd the other sustr bothe; wherforr men sey ffowle off hym, and that he wolde ete the henne and alle hyr chekynnys; and som seye that the Kynge ententdyth to sitte upon hym, and men seye he is lyke to be hangyd, ffor he hathe weddyd a wedowe’

John Paston’s letter suggests that sometime during or before 1478 William Brandon forced himself upon an older woman and also made an attempt to have some sort of relationship with the woman’s daughters. In addition to this great offence, the letter claim’s that the King, Edward IV was not pleased by this news and that the punishment for such horrible crimes was to be hanged. It is interesting to note that despite the required punishment there does not seem to be any record of William Brandon serving time in prison or being punished accordingly. It could be that they were mere gossip or hearsay or that those that were alleging these crimes did not have enough power behind them to see Brandon fully punished. Whatever the case Brandon was not punished and he managed to return to King Edward IV’s good graces.

William had strong Lancastrian ties and supported Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses. However when Henry VI was defeated and eventually murdered and Edward IV came to the throne, the Brandons changed sides. They pledged their support to the new Yorkist King Edward IV, however upon his death his brother Richard III came to the throne and the Brandon’s loyalty quickly began to fade. William Brandon and his brother Thomas soon became dissatisfied with the new King and the shock deposition of the future Edward V and decided to join The Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion in 1483. The rebellion was led by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and aimed to have Richard III removed from the throne and replaced by his nephew Edward, oldest son of Edward IV. However, rumours abound that Edward was dead and the plan was changed to replace Richard III with Henry Tudor. It was at this time that Henry made his first attempt to lay claim to the throne. He sailed with a small army from Brittany. However due to poor weather Henry and his men had to return. Without Henry Tudor’s men, Buckingham’s own army floundered and a bounty was put upon his head. He was eventually captured, convicted of treason and beheaded in Salisbury on the 2nd of November 1483.

Despite supporting the Duke of Buckingham and his failed rebellion both William and Thomas Brandon managed to remain in England, however by 1484 both became dissatisfied with Richard III once more and left England. The brothers headed to Brittany to join with Henry Tudor and support his claim to the throne. In the spring of 1484, King Richard III issued a general pardon to several men that had rebelled against him, one of those being William Brandon. It is unclear if this pardon was issued before or after William Brandon left to join forces with Henry Tudor. If it was indeed before William may not have trusted the King’s words after the failed rebellion and the execution of the Duke of Buckingham. If the pardon had been issued after William had left for Europe it may be that he had no knowledge of the pardon or if he had then he might have felt it simply too late as he had already hedged his lot with Henry Tudor. Whatever the reason for not accepting this pardon it was believed at this time William’s wife Elizabeth was pregnant with their son Charles.

Elizabeth Bruyn of South Ockendon was the daughter and co-heiress of Sir Henry Bruyn. Elizabeth was first married to Thomas Tyrell Esquire who had died in 1473. Sir Bruyn died in 1466 leaving Elizabeth a portion of her father’s wealth. Elizabeth and William Brandon married sometime between 1473 and 1476. Elizabeth survived the death of her husband William in 1485 and lived on until March 1493/4.

To William and Elizabeth Brandon Henry Tudor must have signified hope and a future. The Wars of the Roses had brought a great deal of upheaval to England and now leaving the country they placed all their hope in Henry Tudor and his campaign. Laying claim to the English throne was one thing but obtaining it was another. Throughout 1483/84 Henry and his ever-growing group of supporters relied heavily upon Duke Francis of Brittany for support and received payments from the Duke to help pay for their day to day upkeep. In September 1484 Henry Tudor threw himself upon the mercy of King Charles VII of France and begged him for support for his campaign. The King agreed and helped Henry and his supporters purchase resources and mercenaries for the campaign ahead.

The 1st of August 1485 was to be the day that Henry Tudor would finally leave France after fourteen years of exile in Brittany and France aiming to lay claim to the English throne. He set sail from Harfleur, France accompanied by approximately 2000 soldiers. The exact number of men is hard to estimate as different reports record different numbers. What is known is that this would be Henry’s greatest push to date and by his side would be William Brandon.

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Landing on the 7th of August at Mill Bay six miles west of Milford Haven located along the Pembrokeshire coastline it is said that when he reached the coast Henry knelt down and kissed the sand reciting Psalm 43 ‘Judge me, O Lord and favour my cause’. He then made the sign of the cross.

At Mill Bay Henry was met by his half Uncle David Owen, the illegitimate son of Tudor Owen, Henry’s grandfather. Gathering his men Henry headed off to lay claim to the English throne. Their first stop was the village of Dale of which its castle surrendered easily. Henry and his men camped here and the future King made sure to remind his men not to get up to any trouble. The troops then moved on through Haverfordwest and Cardigan then northward to Llwyn Dafydd. After this, they claimed the garrison at Aberystwyth Castle and then turned to march inland. On August 13th, they reached Machynlleth and the next day they made a thirty-mile trek across rough terrain to Dolarddun. Following this the growing army headed to Long Mountain where Henry met with Rhys ap Thomas, an important man who carried a great deal of sway with the Welsh people. Rhys pledged his loyalty to Henry and brought approximately 2000 troops to Henry’s cause.

With his growing number of troops, Henry then headed to Shrewsbury. However the portcullises were closed and Henry and his men were not given permission to pass. The next day Henry sent a messenger to negotiate with those in charge at Shrewsbury and after a mysterious message from an outside source was sent to the head bailiff Henry and his men were allowed to pass through and a number of men from the town joined Henry’s forces.

From Shrewsbury Henry travelled through Shropshire and Staffordshire. It was here at Staffordshire that Sit Gilbert Talbot and a troop of about 500 men joined with Henry. The men marched to Stafford where Henry would meet Sir William Stanley, younger brother of Henry’s stepfather.

From Stafford Henry and his men marched through Lichfield arriving at Tamworth on the 20th of August. The next day his men marched over the River Anker to Atherstone where Henry is reported to have had a secret meeting with his father in law. It was at this meeting that allegedly Thomas Stanley pledged his formal support for his stepson.

However the next day, on the 22nd of August Henry Tudor sent a message to his stepfather asking him to send his men to join Henry’s troops. To this Stanley replied that he needed to prepare his men and for now it would appear he was keeping his distance. Also on this day Henry chose to knight several men who had shown great loyalty to him throughout his time in exile. These men included Sir Richard Guildford, Sir John Jastoy, Sir John Sisley, Sir John Trenzy, Sir William Tyler, Sir Thomas Milborn and now Sir William Brandon.

At the Battle of Bosworth, it is estimated that Henry Tudor had an army of approximately five to eight thousand soldiers to King Richard III’s twelve to twenty thousand men. Thomas and William Stanley had a combined force of approximately six thousand men however neither brother had made a definitive move as to which side of the battle they would join. Richard III held the higher ground upon Ambion Hill while Henry and his men were on the lower ground next to marshes.

Henry Tudor appointed the Earl of Oxford to command his troops and lead the Vanguard. Behind the vanguard was Henry, flanked by Gilbert Talbot and Sir John Savage and the rest of his men. Close to Henry was Sir William Brandon. Brandon had been chosen to be Henry’s standard bearer, a great honour for a man who continued to display his loyalty.

A standard bearer is ‘one who bears a standard or banner’. It was Brandon’s duty to carry the flag that represented Henry and his troops. The standard that Henry chose was white and green representing the Tudor colours. Upon this was the red cross of St George, patron saint of England and soldiers and the red Dragon of Wales. Henry Tudor had strong ties with Wales through his grandfather Owen Tudor as well as his uncle Jasper Tudor. This identification with Wales and its people helped Henry to recruit many Welsh men and soldiers along his campaign towards London.

Upon King Richard’s side he ordered the Duke of Norfolk and Sir Robert Brackenburry to lead his vanguard. The rear guard was commanded by Richard III and compromised of his personal bodyguard and other soldiers. Behind him was the Earl of Northumberland and his men.

When the battle cry was called arrows fired and then Oxford’s men clashed with the Duke of Norfolk’s. Both sides then paused, perhaps to regain their breath and positions. Oxford formed his men into a wedge and charged forward. At this second charge Henry’s French troops joined the battle and joined the attack on Norfolk’s men. Soon Norfolk’s men were in trouble and many were killed including the Duke himself, others fled while some defected to Henry Tudor’s side.

Northumberland and his men did not move into the fight and it is believed that at some point the Earl decided to leave the battle without employing any of his men into the fray. Amongst the chaos some of his loyal supporters begged Richard III to flee but the King would be no coward. Oxford’s men had pushed forward leaving a gap. Seeing his gap Richard III saw an opportunity to get to the man who caused such a great threat to his throne and he and his men charged forward aiming to strike Henry Tudor down.

It was here that William Brandon met his death at the end of Richard III’s lance. The Battle of Bosworth is remembered for the tragic death of King Richard III and the rise of the Tudors. Sir William Brandon, standard bearer seems almost insignificant amongst a battle that changed the course of English history yet one must not forget his story. While little is known about his life he was fiercely loyal to a man he believed was the true King. He gave his life for Henry Tudor and it was his son Charles Brandon that would continue the Brandon legacy.

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Graham’s Turner’s Painting of William Brandon’s Death

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Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She is the author of Mary Boleyn in a Nutshell and Charles Brandon: The King’s Man.

Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website, queentohistory.com, and a Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.

Was Edward of Warwick a Threat to Henry Tudor?

By Samantha Wilcoxson

The young son of George of Clarence is not often mentioned, but, when he is, it is often as a pitiful aside in the drama of Perkin Warbeck. Opinions on Edward vary, some believing he was mentally disabled and others taking the same evidence to indicate that he was simply as uneducated and unsophisticated as anyone would be who had spent their formative years within the walls of the Tower of London. He was executed because he was seen as a threat to the Tudor throne, but was he?

Edward was executed in 1499 because he had allegedly conspired with Perkin Warbeck to escape the Tower. It is not farfetched to believe that Henry VII set the pair up by providing them with guards who were amiable to their goals and gave them false hope. Whether they really did plot or Henry wanted everyone to believe they did, both were put to death in order to clear the way for the marriage of Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon.

Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Katherine’s parents, clearly saw Edward as a threat based upon their insistence on his removal. Henry was undoubtedly reluctant to execute his wife’s cousin when she had already lost so many to the Wars of the Roses, but, in the end, he decided that the favorable match was worth the loss of one more Plantagenet son. Maybe Edward did present a greater threat than we often give him credit for.

Edward is often referred to as the son of George of Clarence, but let us not forget that his maternal ancestry is no less impressive. Isabel Neville was the daughter of the infamous Kingmaker, and the house of Neville had been powerful enough to sway the Wars of the Roses in whichever direction they chose to place themselves upon. Should Edward have determined to make a claim for himself, he had deep roots of family ties to call upon that Tudor would have been challenged to compete with.

It is for this reason that Edward was initially imprisoned, despite the fact that he was a child. Henry understood that if he allowed this young man to grow and thrive, making the most of these family connections, he would almost certainly become a threat. Henry had learned many lessons from watching the houses of Lancaster and York decimate each other. One of those lessons was to not allow a seemingly innocent threat to become stronger.

York had held Henry VI of Lancaster prisoner for years before they finally put him to death and spread the story that he had died of melancholy. Richard Neville of Warwick, Edward’s grandfather, had not been able to take that step with Edward of York, and the deposed king returned from exile to have his vengeance. Henry Tudor was not going to leave room for the possibility that Edward of Warwick would become one of these stories.

Others saw a child imprisoned in the Tower, but Henry saw the last hope of York neutralized. When rumors had spread in October 1485 that Henry had been a victim of the plague, men began to proclaim Edward king. During uprisings in the spring of 1486, men were heard calling out, ‘A Warwick, A Warwick!’ Tudor had not become king when so many other men had died by ignoring clues such as these. Few would hesitate to make Edward king if Henry died early in his reign without an heir.

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However, Edward was not executed at that time. Henry was content to keep him under lock and key where the boy could not become a rallying point. The king would soon discover that Edward’s physical presence was not required for his name to be utilized in the gathering of troops.

By the end of 1486, whispers of another uprising were heard, and Henry moved against the Warwick holdings. Warwick’s lands were restored to Edward’s grandmother, Anne Beauchamp, leaving Edward heir only to the Montague estates that would later be removed from him under the 1499 attainder.

When a boy who claimed to be Edward of Warwick was used to rally troops to Stoke in 1487, doubters were forced to concede that Henry’s suspicions had been well-placed. Yorkist John de la Pole certainly knew that Lambert Simnel was not the young earl, but he used him as a figurehead nonetheless. Whether de la Pole planned to stake his own claim to the crown or support the real Warwick is unknown since he died in that fateful battle.

Though he had not been involved in any way, Edward remained imprisoned. The power of his name was too much to allow him freedom. Did the boy, who would have been twelve when the Battle of Stoke occurred, have any idea what was happening in his name or any desire to press his claim to the throne?

Probably not, and Henry likely did not really think so either.

Warwick was purposefully kept not only imprisoned but undereducated. Henry had so successfully kept Edward separate from events of his early reign that he could consider reestablishing him in 1488, after what Henry would have likely seen as the last York rebellion had been safely and unequivocally put down. He did take the step of confirming Edward as Earl of Warwick in 1490, but did not go any further toward restoring the boy. Henry’s queen, Elizabeth, would never speak against her husband in public but it makes sense that she would have privately lobbied for Edward’s release.

Unfortunately for Edward, negotiations for the marriage of Henry’s heir also began about this time, and it quickly became clear that his freedom was not worth the trouble it would cause. Even if Edward had no treasonous ideas of his own – and we have no idea if he did – there would always be those to fight in his name and attempt to draw him into conspiracy and foreign powers who would doubt the strength of the Tudor claim with a York prince at large.

By the 1490s, another threat put the proverbial nail in Edward’s coffin. Initial news trickled in that another was claiming to be Edward of Warwick. The fact that Perkin Warbeck made his claim to the throne in the name of Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, would not save Edward from the repercussions of his name being tied to treason once again. This pretender was able to gain support from many European leaders, some believing his claim to be Richard and others simply wishing to provide a thorn for Henry’s side, proving to Henry that he would never be able to set Edward free.

The fight to control or capture Warbeck continued for the remainder of Warwick’s life until the two were both residents of the Tower. Did Edward truly conspire with Warbeck to escape? Was he an innocent, blindly led to his own execution? We may never know, but we do know that in name, if not in deed, Edward of Warwick was a threat to Henry Tudor. With his death, the legitimate male line of the Plantagenets was extinguished.

Additional Reading:

Margaret Pole: Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 by Hazel Pierce

Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

Elizabeth of York: A Queen and her World by Alison Weir

Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors by Desmond Seward

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Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers series, which begins with Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York. The second novel features the sister of Edward of Warwick in Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole. The trilogy will be complete with the release of Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.

You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, or Booklikes.

http://SamanthaWilcoxson.blogspot.co.uk

http://www.twitter.com/carpe_librum

http://www.goodreads.com/samanthajw

http://carpelibrum.booklikes.com

The Death of an Earl: An Extract from “Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower”

By Susan Higginbotham

While Richard Pole basked in royal favour and Margaret bore his children, the Earl of Warwick’s doom was fast approaching. Since the failure of the Lambert Simnel uprising, Warwick had been immured in the Tower. This was not necessarily meant to have been a permanent state of affairs, for in 1488, he had been allowed to witness a document in Warwickshire–perhaps a sign that Henry VII was considering his release. The next pretender, however, would soon put an end to even these feeble hopes for Warwick.

Who precisely ‘Perkin Warbeck’ was remains controversial, but he was most likely born in Tournai, France, to Jehan de Werbecque and Nicaise Farou. Working as a silk merchant, in 1491 Warbeck eventually landed in Cork in Ireland, where he caught the eye of diehard Yorkists who saw in him a likely pretender. This time, the role to be played was that of Richard, Duke of York, who with his older brother Edward V had disappeared during Richard III’s reign. Warbeck was briefly supported by the French, but then moved onto the more promising ground of Burgundy, where Edward IV and Richard III’s sister, Margaret, was the dowager duchess. Maximilian, King of the Romans, who was married to Margaret’s stepdaughter, backed an invasion of England in 1495, which failed, but James IV, the king of Scotland, lent his own backing to the pretender, even going so far to marry him in 1496 to his relative Lady Katherine Gordon, the daughter of George, Earl of Huntley. After another failed attack in 1497, Warbeck went into sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey, but surrendered in exchange for his life.

Having confessed his imposture and undergone the humiliation of being paraded around London, the captive Warbeck joined Henry VII’s court, where he was kept under close surveillance and separated from his wife (who stayed with the queen), but otherwise treated rather well for a man who had tried to unseat a ruling king. In June 1498, however, Warbeck escaped from Westminster Palace. Within a few days, he was recaptured and sent to the Tower.

Meanwhile, another plot was brewing: this one involving Robert Cleymond, a servant of the imprisoned Earl of Warwick who in February 1498 had met with a John Fynche, a London haberdasher who told Cleymond of a prophesy involving the restoration of the earl, and a Thomas Astwode, who had been condemned to death for treason in 1495 but had been pardoned. In July 1498, soon after Perkin Warbeck was imprisoned in the Tower, John Williams, a servant of the Earl of Warwick, introduced Astwode to the young earl. Astwode promised the earl ‘to do you good and help to put you in your right’. Soon–according to the government–the imposter Perkin Warbeck was plotting with Cleymond, Astwode, and Warwick to topple King Henry from this throne.

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Whether the conspiracy was spontaneous or, as some have suggested, manufactured in part or entirely by the government to entrap Warbeck and Warwick, the young earl was ill-equipped for such intrigues. Several decades later, the chronicler Edward Hall would write that Warwick, ‘[b]eing kept in the Tower from his tender age, that is to say from his first year of the king to this fifteenth year, out of all company of men and sight of beasts, in so much that he could not discern a goose from a capon’. Quoted out of context, this statement has been taken by some to indicate that Warwick was mentally deficient from birth; yet Hall’s meaning simply seems to be that Edward, having been imprisoned since the beginning of Henry’s reign, was naive and unworldly. Having been a prisoner since childhood, he had never had the chance to exercise judgment.

Sir Simon Digby, the lieutenant of the Tower, learned of the plot in early August. The king and his council, informed of the plot, did nothing, allowing the case against the principals to build. On 12 November 1499, the king consulted his councilors, who agreed that Warwick and Warbeck had to die.

A common belief is that Warwick’s fate was sealed by the need to assure Ferdinand and Isabella, whose daughter, Katherine of Aragon, was pledged to marry Prince Arthur, that England was free of the threat of future civil war. As Hall, writing several decades later, stated, ‘The fame after his death sprang abroad, [that] Ferdinand king of Spain would never make full conclusion of the matrimony to be had between Prince Arthur and the lady Katherine his daughter nor send her into England as long as this earl lived. For he imagined that as long as any earl of Warwick lived, that England should never be cleansed or purged of civil war and privy sedition, so much was the name of Warwick in other regions had in fear and jealousy’. This may well have been the case, although the appearance in early 1499 of a second Warwick imposter, one Ralph Wilford, and astrological predictions of coming trouble played their role as well. In March 1499, Don Pedro De Ayala wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella of the prognostications, ‘Henry has aged so much during the last two weeks that he seems to be twenty years older’.

Following a trial on 16 November 1499, Perkin Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on 23 November. Warwick, in turn, was brought to trial before John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and other lords at Westminster, as befit a peer of the realm, on 21 November. He confessed to the charges against him and was sentenced to the traitor’s death of hanging, drawing, and quartering. Such a sentence was usually reduced to a beheading (the preferred means of execution for a man of noble blood), and this held true in Warwick’s case. On 28 November, twenty-four-year-old Warwick was beheaded outside the Tower of London. The king paid for the interment of his head and body at Bisham Abbey, the resting place of his ancestors. Two months later, the Spanish ambassador, Rodrigo de Puebla, crowed that ‘not a doubtful drop of royal blood remains in this kingdom, except the true blood of the king and queen, and above all, that of the lord prince Arthur’.

Margaret, of course, remained in the kingdom, but as a female who had been married to a loyal subject, her own royal blood was of little concern. We can assume that she grieved for her brother, but no one recorded her reaction to his execution. How well she knew him is another question. She and her brother had lived apart for years, and we do not know whether they communicated after he was imprisoned. Later, Margaret would declare that her brother had neither ‘experience nor knowledge of the worldly policies nor of the laws of this realm’, which could indicate that Margaret had been in contact with her brother during his last years; alternatively, Margaret could simply be repeating what she had heard from others.

Whatever the depth of Margaret’s sorrow, there would soon be a welcome distraction: her son Reginald was born in March 1500 in Stourton Castle. The following year there would be a distraction on a national level: a royal wedding.

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Susan Higginbotham is a lawyer and lives in North Carolina, USA. She is the author of ‘The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family’ and five historical novels set in Lanacastrian and Tudor England. Her new book ‘Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower” by Amberley Publishing is available now.

Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke: Edward IV’s ‘Master Lock’

By David Santiuste

Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was a prominent Yorkist during the Wars of the Roses. His service to King Edward IV of England brought him power, status and wealth. Herbert came from a family of Welsh gentry – not a great noble house – yet by the end of his life he was one of the foremost men in Edward’s realm. Nevertheless, as was the case for so many of his peers, his time in the sun was short; he was ultimately executed as a ‘traitor’, following his defeat in battle. This article provides a brief insight into his tumultuous career.

Early Years

Herbert was born in 1423 at Raglan in the Welsh Marches. He was a son of Sir William ap Thomas and his second wife, Gwladys, meaning that he was of Welsh descent on both sides. Herbert and his siblings were the first members of his family to adopt an English-style surname – we cannot be certain about the reasons for this choice – although his kinsmen had already established a proud record of service to the English kings. His father was a veteran of the Hundred Years War. His maternal grandfather, Dafydd Gam (‘the lame’) was also a celebrated warrior. Dafydd died fighting for Henry V at Agincourt, and he is traditionally regarded as the model for Shakespeare’s Fluellen.

With this background in mind, one might have predicted that Herbert would also seek fame and fortune in the French wars. By the late 1440s he had risen to become captain of Carentan, where he shared command with the formidable Matthew Gough (another Welsh veteran). His time in France must have provided valuable military experience, although by this point there were fewer opportunities to gain advancement or renown; the tide had long since turned in the favour of the French. In any case, Herbert’s service in France came to an abrupt end in 1450, when he was captured at the Battle of Formigny. He was ransomed, however, and swiftly returned home.

In the years that followed Herbert devoted himself to local affairs. He had inherited his father’s influence as well as his lands (the elder Sir William died in 1445), and he now began to assert himself more strongly in the south-east of Wales. Fifteenth-century Wales was a turbulent place, not least due to simmering Welsh resentment in the wake of Owain Glyndŵr’s revolt. In much of Wales, responsibility for maintaining law and order lay with the powerful marcher lords, but they often resided elsewhere. This meant the Marchers needed to find local men to whom they could delegate authority. Herbert earned the trust of several lords. By 1453 he was the Earl of Warwick’s sheriff of Glamorgan. He also developed strong ties with Richard, Duke of York, who held extensive estates in the Marches.

A fifteenth-century gentleman could achieve a great deal via service to magnates or the crown, but he also needed to maintain effective relations with his peers. It is probably within this context that we should seek to explain his marriage to Anne Devereux, a member of another local gentry family. Their wedding took place in 1449, shortly before Herbert’s last campaign in France. Their union cemented an alliance that would become increasingly important to both of the families involved.

Anne was reputedly a beautiful woman, but aristocratic marriages were only rarely driven by romantic passion. Nevertheless, Herbert does appear to have respected his wife – he appointed her, for instance, as an executor of his will – and there is some tantalising evidence which suggests he might have felt more. A fifteenth-century signet ring has been found near Raglan which bears the initials W and A, as well as the inscription ‘to yow feythfoull’. While the couple inevitably spent long periods apart, in time they would become parents to nine children (of whom several survived to be adults). It must be said that Herbert also fathered at least five illegitimate children, although his relationships with their mothers are thought to have been youthful affairs that predated his marriage to Anne.

York or Lancaster?

As the 1450s progressed, local and national politics became increasingly fraught, as civil war loomed. It might be assumed that Herbert would have been an instinctive Yorkist, given his closeness to the Duke of York, but he also established connections with the Lancastrian court; he was knighted in 1452 by Henry VI, alongside the king’s half-brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Even so, by 1454 Herbert had already aligned himself explicitly with York, stating that he was ‘no man’s man’ but the duke’s. It is possible that Herbert fought for York at the first Battle of St Albans, in 1455. In the following year he joined a group of Welsh gentlemen who resorted to further violent action on the duke’s behalf, seizing control of two important Welsh castles. Edmund Tudor was captured, contracted an illness (probably plague) and shortly afterwards died.

Herbert was outlawed by the royal authorities and briefly imprisoned, but he somehow obtained a pardon. For the rest of the 1450s he maintained a distance from York, as well as his allegiance to Henry VI. Herbert was conspicuous by his absence at the ‘Rout of Ludford’, in October 1459, when the Duke of York and his closest followers were driven into exile. It was also around this time that Herbert commissioned a splendid book, including Lydgate’s epic poem about the Trojan War, which was probably intended as a gift for Henry. (The beautiful illuminations include a depiction of Herbert and his wife kneeling before the king.) Nevertheless, when the Yorkist lords returned to England, and defeated the royal forces at Northampton (10 July 1460), he threw himself irrevocably behind the Yorkist cause.

The Duke of York was killed at the Battle of Wakefield (30 December 1460), but this, of course, was not the end of the matter. Leadership of the Yorkist faction now passed to his eldest son, Edward, Earl of March. At the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, on 3 February 1461, Edward defeated Jasper Tudor and announced himself as a great military commander. Herbert was at Edward’s side.

On 3 March the Yorkists were admitted to London, where Edward was acclaimed as England’s new ruler. On 29 March Herbert fought at the Battle of Towton, where the main Lancastrian army was destroyed. Now that his title was secure, the young king rewarded his supporters. Although we can only speculate about the strength of their personal relationship, it is clear that Edward already valued Herbert’s service. When Edward chose to confer important offices in South Wales upon Herbert, in preference to his chief ally the Earl of Warwick, this confirmed the Welshman’s status as a prominent member of the new regime. Herbert was ennobled after Edward’s coronation, which took place in late June, and in the following year he became a knight of the Garter.

Detail of a miniature of a king enthroned surrounded by courtiers with Sir William Herbert and his wife, Anne Devereux kneeling before him, wearing clothes decorated with their coats of arms. (British Library)

Detail of a miniature of a king enthroned surrounded by courtiers with Sir William Herbert and his wife, Anne Devereux kneeling before him, wearing clothes decorated with their coats of arms. (British Library)

The ‘Master Lock’

The Battle of Towton was a great victory for the Yorkists, but their opponents did not give up the struggle. The Lancastrian resistance was strongest in Northumberland, where King Henry’s supporters continued to hold important castles, but there was also resistance in Wales; this owed much to the efforts of Jasper Tudor, whose major role in the Wars of the Roses has only recently begun to be fully recognised. Edward IV completely delegated the direction of military affairs in Wales to Herbert, a charge he exercised with vigour.

Ably assisted by his younger brother Richard, Herbert gained a series of victories. Pembroke Castle quickly fell to the Yorkists, and Jasper’s nephew Henry, the future king, was captured. (Henry Tudor would go on to spend his formative years in Herbert’s household, and there were later plans for him to marry one of Herbert’s daughters.) In October 1461 Herbert defeated the elder Tudor at the Battle of Tŵt Hill, near Caernarfon, compelling him to seek refuge overseas.

By May 1462 only Harlech Castle remained in Lancastrian hands. Incredibly, Harlech’s garrison continued to defy the Yorkists for several more years, but when Jasper Tudor returned to Wales in 1468, with French support, Herbert responded with a determined and brutal campaign. Tudor was once again forced into exile, and Harlech finally surrendered on 14 August.

As a reward for his capture of Harlech, the last Lancastrian stronghold in the British Isles, Edward created Herbert Earl of Pembroke (a title previously held by Jasper Tudor). This was the pinnacle of Herbert’s career, although it must be seen as the culmination of a series of rewards. Assisted by a network of people who were tightly bound to him by ties of kinship and service, Herbert effectively ruled Wales on Edward’s behalf.

With greater responsibilities came greater wealth, and Herbert diverted vast sums into a spectacular building programme at Raglan. The castle’s best known feature remains its imposing great tower, which was constructed for Herbert’s father, but over the course of the 1460s there was a massive expansion of the site. There was an emphasis on comfort and luxury, as the workmen created well-appointed apartments that were flooded with light. The castle was set within an extensive managed landscape, including gardens, orchards, and a park well stocked with game. During Herbert’s lengthy absences it fell upon his wife to supervise the day-to-day running of the project; records suggest she played a vital role. By the end of the 1460s the Herberts had transformed Raglan into a palatial home.

The architects at Raglan incorporated the latest fashions from England and the Continent, but Herbert did keep sight of his roots. He offered hospitality to Welsh bards, following the ancient traditions of native lordship, and in return they celebrated his achievements. Recounting stories of Herbert’s martial exploits, Lewys Glyn Cothi described his ‘frame ablaze on prancing steed, and his eyes glistening like glowing embers’. It was the same man who gave Herbert his famous soubriquet: Edward IV’s ‘master lock’. But the bards’ support was not unconditional. Now that Herbert was undisputed master of Wales, Guto’r Glyn urged him to use his power for the benefit of the Welsh people; ‘and should England resent it, Wales will rally to your side!’

Herbert and ‘the Kingmaker’

Herbert’s activities were by no means restricted to Wales, however. He sometimes attended the English court, as a trusted member of Edward IV’s council. Yet as Herbert’s power continued to grow, he also made powerful enemies. The most significant of these was the Earl of Warwick, whose own relationship with the king was steadily deteriorating. Warwick’s ire was principally directed at the Woodvilles, the family of Edward’s queen, but there can be no doubt that he also resented the influence of Herbert – his former servant – whom he regarded as an upstart.

There was mutual hostility. In October 1467 Herbert captured a Lancastrian messenger. When the messenger implicated Warwick in Lancastrian plots Herbert sensed a chance to destroy his great rival. He sent the prisoner to the king, along with a full account of the messenger’s allegations. On this occasion Edward chose to accept Warwick’s denials – which were probably sincere – and this led to a thaw in their relationship. Warwick returned to court, following a self-imposed exile in the north, and Herbert himself was publicly reconciled with Warwick. But tensions remained. Warwick continued to oppose Edward’s pro-Burgundian foreign policy (the former favoured an alliance with the French). We must assume that more personal issues were also unresolved.

In the summer of 1469 disturbances throughout the country convinced Warwick that the time was ripe for rebellion: he was now determined to put forward his own policies by force of arms. Warwick devised a two-pronged strategy. In the north, a prominent member of the earl’s affinity raised rebellion under the guise of ‘Robin of Redesdale’, an obscure figure associated with an earlier revolt.  But when Edward was lured northwards, calling for Herbert and the Earl of Devon to join him en route, Warwick was quietly preparing a rebellion in the south. The rebels included Edward’s own brother, George Duke of Clarence, who had grown dissatisfied with his position within the Yorkist regime. Herbert cannot have been aware of the full scale of the threat, but he quickly assembled his men and hurried to Edward’s aid.

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Raglan Castle

The Battle of Edgecote

On 9 July Edward reached Newark. Thinking he was to deal only with local disturbances, his progress northwards had been leisurely. By the following day, however, he became aware that the rebel army was no common rabble, and that ‘Robin’ had raised a vast host. Edward retreated southwards to Nottingham in the face of the rebels’ advance, where he presumably hoped to combine his forces with those of Herbert and Devon. But Robin outflanked the king, speeding south towards a rendezvous with Warwick and Clarence (who were now openly in arms to the south). This led to an encounter with Herbert’s own forces at Edgecote near Banbury.

By this time Herbert had already joined the Earl of Devon, but all of the sources agree that the Yorkist forces became separated, which meant that Herbert and his Welshmen were left to face the northern rebels alone. Why this division occurred is unclear. According to Warkworth’s Chronicle and Hearne’s Fragment, the Yorkist lords ‘fell to variance over lodgings’; the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall, perhaps attempting to enliven his sources, tells us that Herbert and Devon quarrelled over a woman at an inn. The work of Jean de Wavrin, a Burgundian chronicler, offers a more prosaic explanation; he believed that poor reconnaissance was to blame. Whatever the cause, the separation was crucial because Devon’s contingent is said to have included most of the Yorkist archers.

On the evening of 25 July the opposing armies – Herbert’s Welsh forces and the northern rebels – camped on either side of the River Cherwell. Next morning there was a struggle to secure the river crossing, in which the northerners were worsted. The bards may have coloured the Welsh exploits, but it seems clear there was fierce fighting. The northerners experienced heavy casualties. Of the nobility and gentry, Sir Henry Neville and Sir John Conyers’ son, also called John, were killed; Robert, Lord Ogle died later of his wounds.

The rebels’ morale was shaken, but late in the day the northerners were reinforced by an advance party from the Earl of Warwick’s army. Sir Geoffrey Gate and Sir William Parr persuaded the rebels to attack again. Now Herbert was outnumbered and his forces overwhelmed.

Herbert and his brother were both taken prisoner. On the following day they were taken to Northampton, where Warwick presided over their summary execution. The Welsh bards lamented Herbert’s death, which they saw as a national catastrophe. As Guto’r Glyn put it, ‘my nation is destroyed, now that the earl is slain’.

Bereft of Herbert’s support, Edward IV was taken by surprise and captured. Warwick’s triumph was short-lived, however, and Edward quickly regained power. Warwick later joined with the Lancastrians, but he was defeated and killed at the Battle of Barnet. A further Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury ensured that Edward’s title was never seriously challenged again. Herbert’s son, also called William, was therefore able to inherit his father’s title – at least for a time – although he never achieved his father’s influence. But through his granddaughter, Elizabeth, Herbert became the ancestor of the dukes of Beaufort: a noble dynasty that survives to this day.

Further Reading

Ian Dawson, ‘Anne Herbert: A Life in the Wars of the Roses’, The Historian (Spring 2014).

H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1998, c. 1915).

R.A. Griffiths, ‘Wales and the Marches’, in The Fifteenth Century, ed. S.B. Chrimes et al (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1972).

D.H. Thomas, The Herberts of Raglan and the Battle of Edgecote 1469 (Enfield: Freezywater Publications, 1994).

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David Santiuste teaches history at the Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh. He is the author of two books: Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses and The Hammer of the Scots. He is also the creator, with Rae Tan, of the website Reflections of the Yorkist Realm (yorkistrealm.com). You can follow him on Twitter @dbsantiuste.

You can view David’s Amazon Page here

NB: An earlier version of this article appeared in Hobilar, which is published by the Lance and Longbow Society.