December 24, 1545 – Henry VIII’s Final Speech to Parliament

Henry VIII in Parliament, from the Wriothesley Garter Book (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Last speeches seem to be real highlights, and this one certainly does not disappoint. It is a chance to really hear Henry’s voice and remember how seriously he took religion even though he so often bent it to his own purposes. Who among us has not heard the quote, “I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverently that most precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung and jangled in every ale-house and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same”? It’s from this speech – a masterful performance that moved many of those present (including Henry himself) to tears.

Petre wrote to Paget to tell him of this event. “This morning, being Christmas Even, 24 Dec., Parliament was prorogued until 4 Nov. next, by the King in person. After hearing the proposition of the Speaker, a great piece of which consisted in laud of his Highness, the King required my lord Chancellor, whose office has ever been to make answer for the King, to permit him to answer himself; and did so with a gravity, “so sententiously, so kingly, or rather fatherly, as peradventure to you that hath been used to his daily talks should have been no great wonder (and yet saw I some that hear him often enough largely water their plants), but to us, that have not heard him often, was such a joy and marvellous comfort as I reckon this day one of the happiest of my life.”

But enough of a buildup, judge for yourself…(I left as much of the old language as I could – the first two paragraphs are a little slow but they do show you a great side of Henry’s majestic mix of flattery and threats and they will get your ear properly tuned to really enjoy the great stuff in the last two!)

Although my chancellor has been accustomed, very eloquently and substantially, to make answer to such orations as have been set forth in this high court of Parliament; yet is he not so able to open and set forth my mind and meaning, and the secrets of my heart, in so plain and simple manner, as I myself am, and can do. Wherefore, I take it upon me to answer your eloquent oration, Master Speaker, and say that where you, in the name of our well beloved Commons, have both praised and extolled me for the notable qualities that you have conceived to be in me, I most heartily  thank you all. You have put me in remembrance  of my duty, which is, to endeavor myself to obtain such excellent qualities, and necessary virtues, as a prince or governor should or ought to have; of which gifts I recognize myself both bare and barren. But for those small qualities with which God hath endowed me, I render to His goodness my most humble thanks, intending, with all my wit and diligence, to acquire such notable virtues, and princely qualities, as you have alleged to be incorporate in my person. 

Having thanked you for your loving admonition and good counsel, I now quickly thank you again, because you, considering the great charges (not for our pleasure, but for your defense, not for our gain, but to our great cost) which we have lately sustained, both in defense against our and your enemies and the conquest of that fortress which was to this realm most displeasant and noisome, and shall be, by God’s grace, hereafter to our nation most profitable and pleasant, you have freely decided to grant to us a certain subsidy, here in an act specified, which verily we take in good part, regarding more your kindness than the profit thereof, as he that setteth more by your loving hearts than by your substance. Besides this hearty kindness, I cannot a little rejoice, when I consider the perfect trust and sure confidence which you have put in me, as men having undoubted hope and unfeigned belief in my good doings and just proceedings,  because you, without my desire or request have committed to mine order and disposition all chantries, colleges, hospitals, and other places specified in a certain act – firmly trusting, that I will order them to the glory of God and the profit of our commonwealth. Surely, if I, contrary to your expectations, should suffer the churches to decay, or learning (which is so great a jewel) to be diminished, or poor and miserable people to be unrelieved, you might say, that I, being put in so special a trust as I am in this case, were no trusty friend to you, nor charitable man to mine fellow Christians,  neither a lover of the public wealth, nor yet one that feared God, to whom account must be rendered of all our doings. Doubt not, I pray you, but your expectation shall be served, more godly and goodly than you will wish or desire, as hereafter you shall plainly perceive.      

Now since I find such kindness on your part, towards me, I cannot choose but to love and favor you, affirming that no prince in the world more favoreth his subjects than I do you; nor any subjects or commons more love and obey their sovereign lord than I perceive you do me, for whose defense my treasure shall not be hidden, nor, if necessity require, shall my person be unrisked. Yet, although I with you, and you with me, be in this perfect love and concord, this friendly amity cannot continue unless you my lords temporal, and you my lords spiritual, and you my loving subjects, study and take pains to amend one thing, which is surely amiss and far out of order, which I most heartily require you to do and which is that charity and concord is not among you, but discord and dissension beareth rule, in every place. St. Paul saith to the Corinthians, in the thirteenth chapter, charity is gentle, charity is not envious, charity is not proud, and so forth, in the said chapter. Behold then what love and charity is amongst you, when the one calleth the other heretic and anabaptist, and he calleth him in turn papist, hypocrite, and pharisee. Be these tokens of charity amongst you? Are these the signs of fraternal love between you? No, no. I assure you, that this lack of charity amongst yourselves will be the hindrance and assuaging of the fervent love between us, as I said before, except this wound be salved, and clearly made whole. I must needs judge the fault and occasion of this discord to be partly by the negligence of you, the fathers, and preachers of the spirituality. For, if I know a man that liveth in adultery, I must judge him a lecherous and carnal person; if I see a man boast and brag, I cannot but deem him a proud man. I see and hear daily that you of the clergy preach one against another, teach contrary to one another, criticize one against another without charity or discretion. Some be too stiff in their old mumpsimus, other be too busy and curious in their new sumpsimus. Thus, all men almost are in variety and discord, and few or none do preach, truly and sincerely, the word of God, according as they ought to do. Shall I now judge you charitable persons doing this? No, no; I cannot so do. Alas! how can the poor souls live in concord when you preachers sow amongst them, in your sermons, debate and discord? From you they look for light, and you bring them to darkness. Amend these crimes, I exhort you, and set forth God’s word, both by true preaching, and good example-giving, or else I, whom God hath appointed his vicar and high minister here, will see these divisions extinct, and these enormities corrected, according to my very duty, or else I am an unprofitable servant, and an untrue officer.

Although (as I say) the spiritual men are in some fault that charity is not kept amongst you, yet you of the temporality are not clean and unspotted of malice and envy; for you rail on bishops, speak slanderously of priests, and rebuke and taunt preachers; both contrary to good order and Christian fraternity. If you know surely that a bishop or preacher erreth, or teacheth perverse doctrine, come and declare it to some of our Council, or to us, to whom is committed by God the authority to reform and order such causes and behaviors, and be not judges yourselves of your own fantastical opinions and vain expositions; for in such high causes you may lightly err. And, although you are permitted to read holy scripture and to have the word of God in your mother tongue, you must understand that it is licensed you so to do, only to inform your own conscience and to instruct your children and family, and not to dispute and make scripture a railing and a taunting stock against priests and preachers, as many light persons do. I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverently that most precious jewel, the word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same; and yet I am even as much sorry that the readers of the same follow it, in doing, so faintly and coldly. For of this I am sure, that charity was never so faint amongst you, and virtuous and godly living was never less used, nor was God himself, amongst Christians, never less reverenced, honored, or served. Therefore, as I said before, be in charity one with another, like brother and brother; love, dread, and serve God (to the which I, as your supreme head and sovereign lord, exhort and require you); and then I doubt not but that love and bonds, which I spoke of in the beginning, shall never be dissolved or broken between us. And, as touching the laws which be now made and concluded, I exhort you, the makers, to be as diligent in putting them into execution as you were in making and furthering them, or else your labor shall be in vain, and your commonwealth nothing relieved.


You can read Petre’s letter in Letters and Papers. For the speech itself, go to Dodd’s Church History of England  – quoting Hall’s Chronicle p. 864

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August 17, 1510 – Henry VIII Executes Empson and Dudley

Henry VII with Empson and Dudley (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Close your eyes (metaphorically, you still have to read this…). I’m going to give you a fact pattern, you tell me who’s involved.

Picture someone close to Henry VIII, a person his entire country hates. Henry sacrifices them to his people – heaping terrible accusations upon them and charging them with treason based on suspicious and spurious facts. Their death satisfies the people’s blood lust and strengthens Henry’s position without him having to change anything in his policies. Who am I talking about?

Did you guess Anne Boleyn? Most people would. Most people think Henry got cruel and vindictive later in life, but in fact it was there all along.

Two days after his coronation, Henry made a huge move that secured his popularity: he took two of the most powerful men from his father’s Privy Council, the men who had come to represent the heavy taxes imposed under Henry VII, and charged them with treason. Not even actual treason, just “constructive treason” – and based on made up facts. Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley became symbols of everything that was wrong with the kingdom, and their executions “fixed” all that even though tax rates stayed the same.

Two years after their deaths, an Act of Parliament restored their lands to their families. Empson’s heirs lived quiet lives, while Dudley’s returned to court. John Dudley rose gradually under Henry, faster under Edward VI – becoming the boy king’s Lord President of the Council. Unfortunately, he couldn’t handle giving up his power when Edward died: he tried to force Lady Jane Grey onto the throne (right after having her marry his son) but failed and was beheaded by Mary I. His own son fared a little better: Robert Dudley became Elizabeth’s favorite, though she refused to marry him, and lived to a ripe old age.


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August 6, 1540 – The French Ambassador’s Analysis of Henry VIII

Collected Political Correspondence of the French Ambassadors to England  1537-1542 (public domain via the University of Toronto)

Collected Political Correspondence of the French Ambassadors to England 1537-1542 (public domain via the University of Toronto)

This is a phenomenal letter, written by Charles de Marillac (the French Ambassador) to Anne de Montmorency (Grand Master of France, supervising the royal household and Francis I’s private service). Marillac had just written his official report to Francis detailing the political events that were taking place England – this was a more personal letter to a friend that cut to Henry’s character. And cut it does, providing an amazing analysis of Henry VIII’s “issues” as we would say today.

This is taken from Letters & Papers, so it is a synopsis of the letter itself. (You may be wondering how L&P got a copy – Marillac’s secretary was selling copies of the ciphered dispatches…a system Cromwell had put into place long before). The first two paragraphs are general grumbling, it really starts getting good in the third…

His letter to the King shall be his excuse for not dilating further upon this lamentable matter. The fine ordinance newly forged here, for judging men without hearing them or letting them know their accusation, is as unhappy in its result as wicked in its origin. Another has been added to it, by which the Estates have entirely transferred their authority to the King, whose sole opinion will henceforth have the force of an act of Parliament. Although formerly everyone condescended to his wishes, still there was some form of justice, but now will be only the King’s pleasure. Thus Parliament, so often prorogued and re-assembled in years past, has now been closed, and it is thought that for this reign there will be no meeting of estates, except that which is ordinary every year for the expedition of matters of justice.

Will not speak of the pamphlets and books which these bishops print daily, in which, to be found faithful and good servants in treating of true obedience, they permit their King to interpret, add to, take away, and make, more divine law than the apostles or their vicars and successors ever dared to attempt. They make of him not only a King to be obeyed, but an idol to be worshipped. Thus a climax of evils has arisen and all sorts of unhappiness are registered in England. And though Montmorency understands matters better than he can write, will, for once, state briefly what he has seen and can learn about this.

First, to commence with the head, this Prince seems tainted, among other vices, with three which in a King may be called plagues. The first is that he is so covetous that all the riches in the world would not satisfy him. Hence the ruin of the abbeys, spoil of all churches that had anything to take, suppression of the knights of St. John of Rhodes, from whom has been taken not only their ancient revenue, but the moveables which they had acquired which they have not been able to leave by will. Hence, too, the accusation of so many rich men, who, whether condemned or acquitted, are always plucked; and it is unlikely that he should pardon the living when he troubles even the dead, without fearing the offence to the religion of the world which reveres them as saints, witness St. Thomas of Canterbury, who, because his relics and bones were adorned with gold and jewels, has been declared traitor. Everything is good prize, and he does not reflect that to make himself rich he has impoverished his people, and does not gain in goods what he loses in renown. As it seemed difficult to attain his desires after withdrawing obedience from the Holy See, he got preachers and ministers to persuade the people that it was better to employ the Church revenue on hospitals, colleges, and other foundations tending to the public good than to fatten lazy and useless monks. Having under this pretext taken to himself what had been consecrated to God, when the same preachers and ministers exhorted him to fulfil his duty and remit it to better uses they have been condemned and burnt as heretics, as they said at their execution, to the scandal of everyone. And although they well deserved to be the end of that of which they had been the beginning, still, those who commanded them are not free from blame, for, if they showed repentance for what was done, they should restore what they have demolished; but they easily find a thousand ways to take things to themselves and not a single one to give them up.

Thence proceeds the second plague, distrust and fear. This King, knowing how many changes he has made, and what tragedies and scandals he has created, would fain keep in favor with everybody, but does not trust a single man, expecting to see them all offended, and he will not cease to dip his hand in blood as long as he doubts his people. Hence every day edicts are published so sanguinary that with a thousand guards one would scarce be safe. Hence too it is that now with us, as affairs incline, he makes alliances which last as long as it makes for him to keep them.

The third plague, lightness and inconstancy, proceeds partly from the other two and partly from the nature of the nation, and has perverted the rights of religion, marriage, faith and promise, as softened wax can be altered to any form.

The subjects take example from the Prince, and the ministers seek only to undo each other to gain credit, and under colour of their master’s good each attends to his own. For all the fine words of which they are full, they will act only as necessity and interest compel them. Henceforward I will write things simply as they pass; the above is to let you know that I have found what you predicted. 


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June 28, 1519 – Charles V (not Henry VIII) Elected Holy Roman Emperor

The Holy Roman Empire Circa 1600 by Ssolbergj (Creative Commons Attribution License)

The Holy Roman Empire was a “complex of territories in central Europe.” The Kingdom of Germany was the largest of them; others included the Kingdoms of Bohemia, Burgundy and Italy – and the Duchy of Cleves (!). When the Emperor Maximilian died in January of 1519, there was no German contender – so an election was scheduled to determine the next Holy Roman Emperor.

The main candidate was Maximilian’s grandson, Charles V of Spain. But Francis I was also in the running – France’s Charlemagne had been the greatest of the Holy Roman Emperors and Francis was heir to that tradition (enough to make it worth his while to bribe a ton of people). Even Henry VIII thought he might have a chance. That’s where this post comes in.

How could he think that?

In 1519, Henry was 27 and still in his prime. Catherine had given him a daughter (Mary) and was still getting pregnant regularly, Henry FitzRoy was born in June. He was at the top of the world – along with his huge ego. How could no one have discouraged him from wasting the money on the bribes that were required to pursue this position? How did no one warn him just how unlikely he was to win? Or maybe they did. Maybe he joined the contest just to bother Charles and Francis, in keeping with the great rivalry that existed among the three great monarchs of the era – all relatively close in age, all acceding to their thrones around the same time, all dying around the same time.  This is how Alison Weir explains it – she describes his easy acceptance of his loss as evidence that his involvement was a token one.

Still, the election took place on Henry’s birthday. You know there was a part of him that truly believed God would give this to him ….



As always, Wikipedia has a number of useful articles including ones concerning the Holy Roman Empire,  the Imperial Election, Henry VIII and Charles V.  And if you really want to dive into things, Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: The King and his Court  is always a wonderful source for all things Henry.


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June 1, 1533 – Anne Boleyn Crowned

Holbein's Sketch for a Street Tableau

Holbein Sketch for one of the Tableaux at Anne’s Coronation (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This day was the ultimate triumph for Anne Boleyn: after seven years of struggle and uncertainty, she became the anointed Queen of England, six months pregnant with the promised heir to the throne. But I can’t help viewing the events in the light of what happened afterwards. To me it is a poignant, ironic moment before her ultimate tragedy (which, ironically, is what cemented her legacy and made her immortal…).

Today’s coronation preceded and followed days of festivities and formalities – the before including a procession of barges down the Thames and Anne’s formal entrance into London, the afterwards consisting of jousts, tournaments, and dancing. In the morning was held the traditional and moving ceremony that effectively crowned her as a queen regnant (because it not only anointed her, but also placed the Crown of St. Edward on her head, a gold scepter in her right hand and an ivory rod in her left). Then came the banquet that lasted for hours (twenty-eight dishes were served for the first course, twenty-three for the second…). Anne was seated alone in the middle of the center table, with her ladies standing behind her with napkins and a fingerbowl – and ready to hide what she was doing when she needed to spit or even vomit).

The following comes from Edward Hall’s Chronicles:

On 1 June Queen Anne was brought from Westminster Hall to St Peter’s Abbey in procession, with all the monks of Westminster going in rich copes of gold, with thirteen mitred abbots; and after them all the king’s chapel in rich copes with four bishops and two mitred archbishops, and all the lords going in their parliament robes, and the crown borne before her by the duke of Suffolk, and her two sceptres by two earls, and she herself going under a rich canopy of cloth of gold, dressed in a kirtle of crimson velvet decorated with ermine, and a robe of purple velvet decorated with ermine over that, and a rich coronet with a cap of pearls and stones on her head; and the old duchess of Norfolk carrying her train in a robe of scarlet with a coronet of gold on her cap, and Lord Burgh, the queen’s Chamberlain, supporting the train in the middle.

After her followed ten ladies in robes of scarlet trimmed with ermine and round coronets of gold on their heads; and next after them all the queen’s maids in gowns of scarlet edged with white Baltic fur. And so she was brought to St Peter’s church at Westminster, and there set in her high royal seat, which was made on a high platform before the altar. And there she was anointed and crowned queen of England by the archbishop of Canterbury and the archbishop of York, and so sat, crowned, in her royal seat all through the mass, and she offered at the said mass. And when the mass was done they left, every man in his order, to Westminster Hall, she still going under the canopy, crowned, with two sceptres in her hands, my Lord Wiltshire her father, and Lord Talbot leading her, and so dined there; and there was made the most honourable feast that has been seen.

The great hall at Westminster was richly hung with rich cloth of Arras, and a table was set at the upper end of the hall, going up twelve steps, where the queen dined; and a rich cloth of estate hung over her head. There were also four other tables along the hall; and it was railed on every side, from the high dais in Westminster Hall to the platform in the church in the abbey.

And when she went to church to her coronation there was a striped blue cloth spread from the high dais of the king’s bench to the high altar of Westminster on which she went.

And when the queen’s Grace had washed her hands, then came the duke of Suffolk, high constable for that day and steward of the feast, riding on horseback, richly dressed and decorated, and with him, also riding on horseback, Lord William Howard as deputy for the duke of Norfolk in his office of marshall of England, and there came the queen’s service followed by the archbishop’s with a certain space between, which was all borne by knights; the archbishop sitting at the queen’s board, at the end on her left hand. The earl of Sussex was sewer, earl of Essex carver, earl of Derby cup bearer, earl of Arundel butler, Viscount Lisle panter, and Lord Grey almoner.



Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Hall’s Chronicle of the History of England – which can be a little difficult to read so please visit EnglishHistory.Net – The Crowning of Anne Boleyn for the wonderful transcription (poke around on there, it’s a great site!)

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May 14, 1536 – Cromwell Informs Gardiner of Recent Events (AKA “Spin in Tudor Times”)

Thomas Cromwell, as played by James Frain in Showtime's The Tudors

Thomas Cromwell, as played by James Frain in Showtime’s The Tudors

So just about everything we know about the fall of Anne Boleyn comes from people who didn’t actually KNOW but were just repeating stories. But on May 14, Cromwell wrote a letter to Gardiner and Wallop, the King’s ambassadors in France, to let them know what was going on. He knew they had heard the rumors, but it was time to give them the “official” version. They had written to the King, they were owed a response, this would be it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t much. The letter is most interesting in that it speaks a lot about the discovery process but deliberately makes short shrift of the facts: “I write no particularities, the things be so abominable that I think the like was never heard, and therefore I doubt not but that this shall be sufficient…” I’m going to guess Cromwell was being prudent and practical (perhaps even still hoping to add additional charges!) rather than avoiding the subject out of guilt and shame. Either way, he simply cites the Queen’s “abominations” and a plot against the King’s life, and then with those necessities out of the way, moves quickly on to financial issues – settling money owed to Gardiner and to Wallop, which would soon be paid to them – and assuring them that the King thinks they are doing a fine job.

It really feels like, for Cromwell, everything was just business.


I know you have not as yet received answer to your letters: they were deferred until the arrival of the bailly of Troyes. Yet the King’s Highness thought convenient that I should inform you of a scheme that was most detestably and abominably devised, contrived imagined, done and countenanced – and so most happily and graciously by the ordinance of God revealed, manifested, and notoriously known to all men. You have surely heard the rumor, yet I shall express unto you some pain of the coming out and of the King’s proceeding in the same. The Queen’s abomination, both in incontinent living and other offenses towards the King’s Highness, was so rank and common that her ladies of her privy chamber and her chamberers could not contain it within their breasts (conceal it). Their disgust led to such frequent communications and conference of it that at the last it came plainly to the ears of some of His Grace’s counsel. Given their duty to his Majesty, they could not conceal it from him: with great fear, they declared what they had unto his Highness. Whereupon in most secret sort, certain persons of the privy chamber and others of her side were examined, in which examination the matter appeared so evident, that beside the crime, with the accident, there broke out a certain conspiracy of the King’s death which extended so far that all we that had examination of it quaked at the danger his Grace was in, and on our knees gave Him laude and praise that He had rescued him so long from it and now manifested the most wretched and detestable determination of the same. Thus were certain men admitted to the Tower for this cause, that is Mark and Norris, and her brother. Then was she apprehended and conveyed to the same place, and after her were sent thither Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton. Norris, Weston, Brereton and Mark are already condemned to death, having been upon arraigned in Westminster Hall on Friday last. She and her brother shall be arraigned tomorrow, and will undoubtedly go the same way. I write no particularities, the things be so abominable that I think the like was never heard, and therefore I doubt not but that this shall be sufficient for your instruction to declare the truth if you have occasion so to do.

Your lordship shall receive 200£ of the 300£ that were out among these men, notwithstanding great suit has been made for the whole, which though the King’s Highness might give in this case yet His Majesty does not forget your service. And the third 100£ is bestowed of the Vicar of Hell (Francis Bryon), upon whom though it be some charge unto you His Highness trusteth ye will think it well bestowed. And thus fare you most heartily well.

From the Rolls in haste this fourteenth of May. Your loving assured friend, Thomas Cromwell

PS – And you Master Wallop shall not be forgotten. The certainty of the amount that ye shall have I cannot tell, but in the next letters you shall know it. I assure you the King’s Highness taketh both your services in as thankful part as you could wish or devise.


Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume 2,  edited by Roger Bigelow Merriman


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March 23, 1534 – First Act of Succession

Henry VIII in Parliament, from the Wriothesley Garter Book (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Henry VIII in Parliament, from the Wriothesley Garter Book (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The First Act of Succession (at the time referred to only as the “Act of Succession”) was a key step in Henry’s repudiation of Catherine of Aragon: it recognized Elizabeth, his daughter with Anne Boleyn, as the true heir to the throne (until of course a son was born to this marriage!), and made Mary, his daughter with Catherine, a bastard. While the Church of England had already declared the same thing, this Act of Parliament bound the people much more directly.

It was a formidable weapon because it required every Englishman to swear an oath to recognize this Act, as well as the King’s supremacy:

And that all manner your subjects, as well spiritual as temporal … shall swear a like corporal oath, that they and every of them, without fraud or guile, to their cunning, wit, and uttermost of their powers, shall truly, firmly, and constantly observe, fulfil, maintain, defend, and keep the effects and contents contained and specified in this Act, or in any part thereof.

Those who refused – like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher – would be guilty of treason and executed. Henry wasn’t messing around!

[E]very such person and persons, of what estate, degree, or condition they be of … and their aiders, counsellors, maintainers, and abettors, and every of them, for every such offence shall be adjudged high traitors, and every such offence shall be adjudged high treason, and the offenders and their aiders, counsellors, maintainers, and abettors, and every of them… shall suffer pains of death, as in cases of high treason; and that also every such offender, being convicted as is aforesaid, shall lose and forfeit … all such manors, lands, tenements, rents, annuities, and hereditaments, which they had in possession as owners, or were sole seized of by or in any right, title, or means, or any other person or persons had to their use, of any estate of inheritance, at the day of such treasons and offences by them committed and done …

Interestingly, only two years later, the Act was superseded by the Second Act of Succession, passed in June 1536 and which vested the succession in Henry’s children by new wife Jane Seymour and made Elizabeth as illegitimate as Mary. Of course, since Henry did not as yet have any children by Jane Seymour, the Second Act also gave Henry “full and plenary power and authority” to choose a different successor in letters patent or through his final Will. Nor was this Henry’s final say on the matter: the Third Act of Succession, passed in July 1543, restored Mary and Elizabeth to the succession (though without removing their illegitimacy) behind Edward, Edward’s children, and any children Henry might yet have with then-wife Katherine Parr) – and of course subject to Henry’s continuing right to change his mind in letters patent or his Will…


Wikipedia for the First Act of Succession, the Second Act of Succession, and the Third Act of Succession

Luminarium for the full text of the First Act of Succession

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March 3, 1515 – Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon Secretly Married

Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, attributed to Jan Gossaert (public  domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, attributed to Jan Gossaert (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Tudor, youngest sister of Henry VIII, was known as one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe – which made her a valuable commodity in the political marriage market. Her long-term childhood betrothal to Charles of Castille (who would later become Charles V) was called off so that she could cement a peace treaty with France: on October 9, 1514, she married Louis XII of France. Mary was not happy about the marriage (she was 18, Louis was 52), and allegedly agreed only after Henry promised that she would be allowed to marry whomever she liked if (when) Louis died. Of course, Henry probably saw this more as a right to veto an unwelcome choice rather than as a commitment he would have to honor.

Still, she agreed and left for France. She was crowned on November 4, 1514 in a magnificent display of pomp (I wrote a blog post about it, you can read it here) and all of France hoped for an heir. Unfortunately, three months after the wedding the only thing to result from the activity in the royal bedchamber was the death of Louis XII (people loved to say he died from “his exertions” but truth was it was probably gout). Henry sent Charles Brandon to bring her home from France – a big mistake since Brandon and Mary were already in love. Henry knew this, but sent Brandon anyway, making him promise he would not propose to her. The couple easily got around this when Mary acted as the aggressor, insisting Brandon marry her in secret before their return.

Henry was furious, and threatened Brandon with execution (it was treason to marry a Royal Princess without the ruling monarch’s consent) but he soon calmed down and had the couple remarry in England on May 13, 1515 so he could witness the event himself. The marriage is always described successful; they were happy together, and produced four children. Their two sons, both named Henry, died in childhood; a daughter named Eleanor lived to 28. It was their oldest daughter, Frances, who made the biggest name for herself: she married Henry Grey, Third Marquess of Dorset, and was the mother of Lady Jane Grey – the Nine Days Queen. But that’s another blog post…

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February 28, 1556 – Burial of Stephen Gardiner at Winchester Cathedral

Stephen Gardiner by a 16th century artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Stephen Gardiner by a 16th century artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Stephen Gardiner was an important English cleric and politician during the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary I (his strongly Catholic leanings sent him to the Tower during the reign of the Protestant Edward VI…). He served as Bishop of Winchester from 1531-1555 (with two years “off” during his imprisonment).

Although he supported Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Gardiner spent the rest of Henry’s reign promoting Catholic interests. At Henry’s death, he was in a period of disfavor, so he was not named as an executor of the will or part of the regency council – which left the field more open for Edward Seymour to have him further marginalized. Of course, when Edward VI died and Mary I acceded the throne, Gardiner was restored to his bishopric and named Lord Chancellor. He was the one who placed the crown on Mary’s head at her coronation, as well as the cleric who performed her marriage to Philip II.

Because of his position of prominence during Mary’s reign, it is often assumed that he was largely responsible for the policies that earned her the nickname “Bloody Mary,” though some people defend him by arguing that no one was punished for heresy in his own diocese until after he died. I have to admit, I’m in the “don’t like him much” camp because of the way he tried to bring down Cranmer and Katherine Parr during Henry’s reign (he actually got Henry to sign a warrant to have her questioned, but she found out about it and had the chance to explain herself to Henry before the arrest could take place…)

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February 24, 1500 – Birth of Charles V

A Young Charles V, by Bernard van Orley (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

A Young Charles V, by Bernard van Orley (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The reign of Charles V was a momentous era for Spain, indeed, all of Europe. It was also especially momentous for England: it was entirely because of Charles that the Pope refused to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. This should have been a slam dunk for Henry (it was relatively standard practice when a monarch’s marriage did not produce an heir), except that Catherine was Charles’ aunt – and Henry was not looking to replace her with another political marriage…

Charles V is also of particular interest to Tudor enthusiasts because of the way his reign can be viewed in tandem with Henry VIII’s. Indeed the sixteenth century saw a rare parallel of monarchs: Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain, and Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire were all born around the same time (Henry – 1491, Francis – 1494, Charles – 1500, Suleiman – 1494), acceded to their thrones around the same time (Henry – 1509, Francis – 1515, Charles – 1516, and Suleiman – 1520), reigned for similar lengths of time (35-45 years or so) during which they oversaw enormous cultural advances, then died around the same time (Henry and Francis – 1547, Charles – 1558 and Suleiman – 1566).

Of the European rulers, Charles V was the most powerful. As the heir to three of Europe’s leading dynasties (Hapsburg, Valois-Burgundy and Trastamara), Charles governed the Spanish Empire, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire (covering key parts of Germany, Italy…). As Wikipedia puts it, “his domains spanned nearly four million square kilometers, and were the first to be described as ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’. He might well have annexed France and England (though I could get beat up for saying this…), were it not for his ongoing border disputes with Suleiman, who ruled over 20-30 million people, primarily in the Middle East and North Africa.

In terms of looks, Charles was on the short side and inherited the unfortunate Hapsburg jaw. Perhaps this is why Henry was not as obsessively jealous of, and competitive with, him the way he was with Francis. It also helped that they began their respective reigns as allies, with Charles carefully deferring to his “elder uncle” for a time. Whatever the reason, the two countries spent more time as allies than as enemies over the Henry/Charles years, and set the stage for the marriage of Mary I with Charles’ son Philip II (though as a child she had been promised to Charles…talk about a limiting precontract!).


For this article, my immediate sources came from Wikipedia – their many entries about Charles V, Henry VIII, Francis I, Suleiman the Magnificent, and so many more. I can’t tell you who first led me to see the four monarchs as contemporaries that shaped each others’ lives…

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