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November 8, 1528 – Henry’s Declaration at Bridewell

Henry VIII around 1530-1535 (as close as we have to when he made this declaration at Bridewell), by Joos Van Cleve
Henry VIII around 1530, by Joos Van Cleve

I have been focused on Elizabeth so much that I have not done a “King’s Great Matter” post in a while – but this was such a big deal that it’s the perfect chance to dip my toes back in to this era!

First, the context: Cardinal Campeggio had arrived the month before, ostensibly to decide the issue of Henry’s annulment (you cam read about that here). But the Pope had given Campeggio secret instructions to delay – in the hopes the Henry’s passion for Anne would burn itself out and the issue would dissolve. You can see this in the fact that the actual trial did not begin until the end of the following June (held at Blackfriars, where Catherine made her amazing opening statement before sweeping out of the courtroom). Today’s declaration had two goals: to get the process started (which technically it achieved – but that says nothing about the ensuing snail’s pace), and to sway public opinion. As chronicler Edward Hall explains (yes, I cleaned up his language – feel free to click through to read the original):

…women especially and others that favored the queen talked largely, and said that the King would for his own pleasure have another wife and had sent for this legate to be divorced from his queen, with many foolish words, insomuch, that whoever spake against the marriage was of the common people abhorred and reproved, which common rumor and foolish communications were related to the King, wheretofore he like a prudent prince and circumspect doer in all his affairs, and willing all men to know his intent and purpose, caused all his nobility, Judges and councilors with divers other persons to come to his palace of Bridewell.

I don’t believe that Henry changed many (any) minds with this speech, though he saw it as successful (successful enough to repeat its arguments both at Blackfriars and whenever anyone gave him the chance). Let’s just say nothing in here will surprise any of you (other than a “I thought this was from Blackfriars”). Without further ado, here is Hall’s report of what Henry said (feel free to pause and laugh at the “and you of the meaner sort” in the first line):

Our trusty and well-beloved subjects both you of the nobility and you of the meaner sort, it is not unknown to you how that we, both by God’s provision and true and lawful inheritance have reigned over this realm of England almost the term of twenty years. During which time we have so ordered us, thanked by God, that no outward enemy hath oppressed you, nor taken any thing from us, nor have we invaded no realm, but we have had victory and honor, so that we think that you nor none of your predecessors never lived more quietly, more wealthy, nor in more estimation under any of our noble progenitors. But when we remember our mortality and that we must die, then we think that all our doings in our life time are clearly defaced and worthy of no memory if we leave you in trouble at the time of our death. For if our true heir be not known at the time of our death see what mischief and trouble shall succeed to you and your children. The experience there of some of you have seen after the death of our noble grandfather King Edward the III and some have heard what mischief and manslaughter continues in this realm between the houses of York and Lancaster, by the which dissention this realm was like to have been clearly destroyed. And although it has pleased almighty God to send us a fair daughter of a noble woman and me begotten to our great comfort and joy, yet it hath been told us by diverse great clerks, that neither she is our lawful daughter nor her mother our lawful wife, but that we live together abominably and detestably in open adultery, in so much that when our ambassador was last in France and motion was made that the Duke of Orleans should marry our said daughter one of the said chief counselors to the French King said, ‘It were tell done to know whether she be the King of England his lawful daughter or not, for well known it is that he begat her on his brother’s wife which is directly against God’s law and his precept. Think you my lords that these words touch not my body and soul? Think you that these doings do not daily and hourly trouble my conscience and vex my spirits? Yes, we doubt not but that if it were your own cause every man would seek remedy, when the peril of your soul and the loss of your inheritance is openly laid to you. For this only cause I protest before God and in the word of a prince, I have asked counsel of the greatest clerks in Christendom, and for this cause I have sent for this legate as a man indifferent only to know the truth and so to settle my conscience, and for none other cause as God can judge. And as touching the Queen, if it be adjudged by the law of God that she is my lawful wife, there was never thing more pleasant nor more acceptable to me in my life, both for the discharge and clearing of my conscience and also for the good qualities and conditions the which I know to be in her. For I assure you all, that beside her noble parentage of the which she is descended (as you well know) she is a woman of most gentleness, of most humility and buxomness, yea and of all good qualities appertaining to nobility, she is without comparison as I this twenty years almost have had the true experiment, so that if I were to marry again, if the marriage might be good, I would surely chose her above all other women. But if it be determined by judgement that our marriage was against God’s law and clearly void, then I shall not only sorry the departing from so good a Lady and loving companion, but much more lament and bewail my unfortunate chance that I have so long lived in adultery to God’s great displeasure, and have no true heir of my body to inherit this realm. These be the sores that vex my mind, these be the pangs that trouble my conscience, and for these griefs, I seek a remedy. Therefore I require of you all as our trust and confidence is in you to declare to our subjects our mind and intent according to our true meaning, and desire them to pray with us that the very truth may be known for the discharge of our conscience and saving of our soul, and for the declaration hereof I have assembled you together, and now you may depart.


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November 8, 1528 – Henry’s Declaration at Bridewell
Published inOn This DayInteresting Letters and Speeches

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