Charles de Marillac was the French Ambassador posted to Henry’s court between 1538 and 1543. His letters reported everything he noticed – and when they include observations on Henry’s mental health they make for compelling reading.
There are two pieces to the correspondence: Marillac would often write a main letter to Francis I and then a second one to France’s Chief Minister, the Duc de Montmorency, giving additional (and deeper!) details… It is the letters to Montmorency that we remember best: like the August 1540 missive where he explains that that “this Prince seems tainted, among other vices, with three which in a King may be called plagues…” (you can read it here). This is a worthy follow-up to that series (not that there weren’t many in between!), describing Henry’s increasing suspicion and malice and giving us his regret at executing Cromwell, “the most faithful servant he ever had.”
For this post, I am giving you pieces of both letters though I have cut out the “extra” details (updates about customs edicts…) to concentrate on the meaty stuff about Henry; as always, if you want more feel free to make your way over to Letters and Papers!
Marillac’s letter to Francis:
Mentioned in his last that this King talked of visiting his places and castles on the coast towards France, to have the ramparts which had fallen remade, particularly the port of Dover. This was prevented by an illness which happened to him at Hampton Court, in the form of a slight tertian fever, which should rather have profited than hurt him, for he is very stout (bien fort replet), but one of his legs, formerly opened and kept open to maintain his health, suddenly closed, to his great alarm, for, five or six years ago, in like case, he thought to have died. This time prompt remedy was applied, and he is now well and the fever gone. Besides the bodily malady he had a mal d’esprit which is to be considered, viz., that, hearing that his subjects in divers places murmured at the charges which, contrary to their ancient liberties, are imposed upon them, and at their ill-treatment for religious opinions, and having conceived a sinister opinion of some of his chief men, in his illness, he said he had an unhappy people to govern whom he would shortly make so poor that they would not have the boldness nor the power to oppose him, and that most of his Privy Council, under pretense of serving him, were only temporizing for their own profit, but he knew the good servants from the flatterers, and if God lent him health, he would take care that their projects should not succeed. Upon this impression he spent Shrovetide without recreation, even of music, in which he used to take as much pleasure as any prince in Christendom, and stayed in Hampton Court with so little company that his Court resembled more a private family than a king’s train.
The one to Montmorency adds the following details:
With regard to his letter to King Francis, this King’s life was really thought to be in danger, not from the fever but from the leg, which often troubles him because he is very stout and marvelously excessive in drinking and eating, so that people worth credit say he is often of a different opinion in the morning than after dinner. Directs attention to the instability of the people and this King’s impression of his ministers, whom (besides what Marillac writes to the King) he sometimes even reproaches with Cromwell’s death, saying that, upon light pretexts, by false accusations, they made him put to death the most faithful servant he ever had.