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.

SOURCES:

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

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April 30, 1536 – Henry and Cromwell Writes to Gardiner About…Not That

Signature of Henry VIII (via Open Government License from the National Archives)

Signature of Henry VIII (via Open Government License from the National Archives)

On April 30, 1536, Henry VIII wrote to Stephen Gardiner, who was then serving as England’s ambassador to Francis I. The letter was a general set of instructions on certain diplomatic points that had been in issue between the two countries. Cromwell even sent a cover note, and enclosed cramp rings that Queen Anne would have blessed a couple of weeks ago right before Easter. The letters are completely innocuous (though they are an important part of moving forward in negotiations). So why do they deserve a mention?

It’s all about what they didn’t say. These letters were written and sent on the very day Mark Smeaton was arrested – the day before the May Day Joust where Henry walked away from Anne forever. An interesting PS was added to Henry’s instructions:

P.S.—Though this packet was made up this morning, and delivered to Thos. Barnaby, it has been delayed on account of the French ambassador signifying a wish for an audience. He has told the King that the French king was sending the bailly of Troyes to England “to open unto us the bottom of his heart,” and that he was commanded meanwhile to remove certain sinister opinions entertained of his proceedings; insisting that he had made no peace with the Emperor, and that, as he was informed for certain, that the Emperor and the bishop of Rome had determined upon summoning a General Council at Mantua at Whitsuntide come twelve months, he desired to know Henry’s resolution. The King replied that the matter was too weighty to be hastily disposed of, but that he considered, first, that all Christian princes had as good a right and an equal voice in the indiction of a General Council as either the Pope or the Emperor, and that no such council ought to be summoned without the consent of all; secondly, that though Henry thought it very necessary for the quiet of Christendom to have a Christian free General Council, his good brother would agree that Mantua was a most objectionable place, and most unsafe for princes to repair to.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I see these letters as Henry and Cromwell clearing the decks before the storm. These missives, sent at the last possible moment, would be sent out to smooth over all simmering controversies – so that when the French King (and everyone else) heard the news of Anne’s arrest, it would all blow over easily since no one would be worried about what that meant to them.

The next missive to Gardiner was not sent until May 14 – after the convictions of Brereton, Norris, Weston, and Smeaton but the day before the trials of Anne and George. It is interesting that no letters in this interim were recorded from Marillac (France’s ambassador to England) – while Chapuys informed the Emperor of the spate of arrests on May 2. I have to see this as part of Cromwell’s astute observations and careful planning…

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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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