HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr’ by Leanda de Lisle

From the New York Times bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the tragic story of Charles I, his warrior queen, Britain’s civil wars and the trial for his life.
Less than forty years after England’s golden age under Elizabeth I, the country was at war with itself. Split between loyalty to the Crown or to Parliament, war raged on English soil. The English Civil War would set family against family, friend against friend, and its casualties were immense–a greater proportion of the population died than in World War I.
At the head of the disintegrating kingdom was King Charles I. In this vivid portrait–informed by previously unseen manuscripts, including royal correspondence between the king and his queen–Leanda de Lisle depicts a man who was principled and brave, but fatally blinkered.
Charles never understood his own subjects or court intrigue. At the heart of the drama were the Janus-faced cousins who befriended and betrayed him–Henry Holland, his peacocking servant whose brother, the New England colonialist Robert Warwick, engineered the king’s fall; and Lucy Carlisle, the magnetic ‘last Boleyn girl’ and faithless favorite of Charles’s maligned and fearless queen.
The tragedy of Charles I was that he fell not as a consequence of vice or wickedness, but of his human flaws and misjudgments. The White King is a story for our times, of populist politicians and religious war, of manipulative media and the reshaping of nations. For Charles it ended on the scaffold, condemned as a traitor and murderer, yet lauded also as a martyr, his reign destined to sow the seeds of democracy in Britain and the New World.

cover and blurb via amazon

~~

I don’t know much about Charles I; he is not in my time period of “expertise”, but since de Lisle is such a good author, I thought it was time to extend my knowledge. A quick internet search of Charles I tells of a somewhat brutal and foolish guy, where things all went wrong around him. But this book doesn’t tell that story. Charles was a man who took his duty as king most seriously, his kingship and his religion were held to the highest of esteem, he cared about his people and honour was his greatest value to maintain.

Charles I was a Protestant man, yet was not harsh on Catholics like rulers before him. It come have been Charles’ lack of will that caused him trouble. His relationship with Archbishop Laud made Charles’ subjects believe he was a Catholic sympathiser, when in fact, his Protestant beliefs were firm in his heart. When the French princess, Henrietta-Marie, a  Catholic, was chosen as queen, these rumours only grew worse.

While the book talks of a man worthy of being king, Charles’ personality did not automatically translate into him being a good leader. He liked to compromise – to the point where he would be on the losing side, but also could be stubborn and refuse to give in when it was in England’s best interest. Charles, ultimately, was a stiff and difficult king, and seemed to want to be seen as a strong leader while still also a protector. Yet it was his stubbornness that would be remembered, as inflexibility caused his people harm.

Married to French Henrietta-Marie, it has been said that Charles was dominated by this woman. Yet that is a combination of male historians and old attitudes assuming any woman with a will and an opinion must be a domineering wench. Henrietta-Marie was a smart woman, trained to be a queen. Perhaps things would have gone differently had Charles listened to his wife more often. The author uses letters which have not been used before, to show what the royal marriage was like, and showed that this prime political match had sense of love to it also. Charles’ mother-in-law was the powerful Marie de Medici, the Dowager Queen of France. Marie was considered the human body of the counter-reformation, a strong Catholic firmly against Protestantism, only to have her daughter marry Charles, leader of Protestant England. Charles and Henrietta-Marie would have had the most fraught and lively marriage one could imagine.

There were figures in Charles’ life which I had never heard of – the Rich brothers. Henry,  1st Earl of Holland, and Robert, 3rd Earl of Warwick, stood in Charles’ way as he looked for the funds to start a war, as decided upon in parliament. Charles needed to protect Protestant needs throughout Europe as the Catholics fought back more than in previous generations. Also rearing its head was Oliver Cromwell’s desire for civil war and to rule in the monarchy’s place. Between the Rich brothers and their cousin named Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle, they rose in power as Charles did his fumbling best to save his true religion and his country.

Of course, that genocidal killer, Oliver Cromwell, was doing is best to embrace an England without a monarchy, and after civil wars, poor Charles I was captured and beheaded for high treason in 1649, after 24 years as king. After plenty more fighting, and England spending a decade free of a monarchy, Charles’ son, also Charles, took the throne in his place. How much easier English history would be if Catholic and Protestant factions could just co-exist, even if just within the confines of the royal line!

While I know little about the time period of Charles I, I enjoyed this book, as de Lisle is a wonderful author, creating another book that is fun to read while laced with information you can trust and enjoy. All books by Leanda de Lisle are a must-buy.

Advertisements

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Prince Arthur – The King Who Never Was’ by Sean Cunningham

During the early part of the sixteenth century England should have been ruled by King Arthur Tudor, not Henry VIII. Had the first-born son of Henry VII lived into adulthood, his younger brother Henry would never have become King Henry VIII. The subsequent history of England would have been very different; the massive religious, social and political changes of Henry VIII’s reign might not have been necessary at all.

In naming his eldest son Arthur, Henry VII was making an impressive statement about what the Tudors hoped to achieve as rulers within Britain. Since the story of Arthur as a British hero was very well known to all ranks of the Crown’s subjects, the name alone gave the young prince a great deal to live up to. Arthur’s education and exposure to power and responsibility, not to mention his marriage to a Spanish princess in Catherine of Aragon, all indicate that the young prince was being shaped into a paragon of kingship that all of Britain could admire.

This book explores all of these aspects of Prince Arthur’s life, together with his relationship with his brother, and assesses what type of king he would have been.

cover and blurb via amazon

~~

Henry VIII is far from the only man who took a throne and went mad. Some tend to be hard on him, as if he was the only angry ruler the world saw, making it easy to say ‘what would have happened if Arthur had never died?’

Henry VIII was the king who shouldn’t have been, making Prince Arthur the king who never was. Here is the book to answer all your questions had King Arthur I taken his place in history.

Arthur was born to role. The first child of his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Much has been made of little Arthur; some claim him fragile since birth, others draw the opposite conclusion. From a young age, Prince Arthur was given a top education, given a reigning position as Prince of Wales, close to his father the king.

Arthur was treated like a precious jewel, the king who would reign after the bloody battles of the War of the Roses. Arthur was the blood of the house of Lancaster and York combined; his existence alone suggested constant unity and peace. Given an education both in practical subjects, plus religion and humanism, Arthur got involved in local matters as a child, at his father’s side, completely prepared to take over England when the time came. Arthur had siblings, first a sister Margaret, then the spare heir Henry, and little Mary, to be followed by Elizabeth, Edmund and Katherine who all did not survive infancy. Henry and the girls were kept with their mother while Arthur was cradled for brilliance.

Officially married in 1501 after four years of being married by proxy, 15-year-old Arthur was to move to his castle in Ludlow, to rule over Wales, as his title suggested. Princess Katherine of Aragon was at his side, a Spanish princess there to ensure that Arthur’s future children would be recognised as the sole rulers of England, to soothe Henry VII’s constant fears of being usurped. Arthur boasted of bedding his new bride, words that would live for all time.

Only a few months into the marriage, Prince Arthur died at Ludlow Castle, of possible sweating sickness, leaving a widow not pregnant with the future heir. While spoiled little Henry would take the crown seven years later, along with the princess, England never got their perfect king. Queen Elizabeth died only a year after Arthur, and Henry kept his son hidden away, in the fear something might happen to his remaining son. Little Henry should have been given Arthur’s education, yet received nothing.

It is easy to suggest that Arthur’s reign would have been different. Naturally, there would have been differences. Henry broke from Catholicism in order to get rid of his wife of twenty years, on the grounds that Katherine had slept with Arthur, which she denied all her days. It is easy to say the Protestant Reformation would have never occurred in England without Henry’s need for divorce. Reformation would have come to England without Henry’s divorce, but simply would have taken a different route, as it did with other nations. Henry divorced to gain an heir with another woman, the exact same pressure Arthur would have faced if he couldn’t produce a son to inherit. For all his kindness and intelligence, Arthur could have suffered the same infertility problems as his little brother.

Cunningham’s book gives you an insight to the life of King Arthur I. It is impossible to tell for certain, but here is a good best-case scenario, with a fine leader on the throne, and a stable dynasty as a result.

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS: Author Q+A – Part 1

How much do you know about Tudor England? Maybe you are an expert; maybe you are new and know no more than Henry VIII and his desire to crop heads (roughly 72,000). Maybe you know Thomas Cromwell was the real genius behind Henry’s reign and changed laws in a way no country has ever known. Maybe you have heard his name a few times, maybe watched Wolf Hall, or get him mixed up with the genocidal Oliver Cromwell of the 1600’s.

Frailty of Human Affairs is set in the years 1529 – 1533, the early years of Cromwell’s rise to control England behind Henry VIII. He was already a wealthy merchant, trader, lawyer and money-lender. He had already served both the royal court for his master,Cardinal Wolsey, and in parliament. But it was 1530’s in which Thomas Cromwell basically picked up England and shook it, changing everything that everyone knew in a way that had never been done, and was never done again. If you are English or in a country invaded and dominated by the English (like here in the antipodes), you can thank Thomas Cromwell that you are not Catholic (unless you want to be, which is your choice now, you do you). Yes, Catholic vs. Protestant reform would have come to England with or without Cromwell’s help, but how it played out would have been very different.

Do you need to understand the difference between Catholic vs. Protestant to read this book?

I have kept it simple because unless you have done religious studies (like me), it can seen as daunting. It did to me at the start. Basically, Catholics pray in church to their priests, bishops archbishops and cardinals. All bow to the Pope in Rome. In Cromwell’s time, prayer had to be done in Latin. The Protestants (literally religious protestors, mostly in Germany) translated the bible from Latin to German and then English, and the translations came out with different rules on how to revere God. These bibles were banned in Cromwell’s time, as they questioned the Church’s real power. These English and German bibles allowed people to understand prayer easier, let them pray where and when they chose, and didn’t expect people to pray a premium in church for their souls to be saved. That’s the over-simplified version, but it’s all you need to start reading.

Why read your Cromwell over another version?

Thomas Cromwell sat in obscurity until around the 1950’s when he was brought back into public knowledge, as the villain behind King Henry VIII and the destruction of Catholic England. In the last decade, much has been written to reinvent Thomas Cromwell as a hero, a smart man who was caught under a despot king. I seek to write neither a hero nor a villain. In a world such as the Tudor court during the 1530’s, every man and woman would have needed to take sides – hero or villain – but I wanted to show that people can be both and neither. Neither Cromwell nor Frescobaldi are in any way perfect, and have intentions of their own as well as serving a king.

Who is Nicóla Frescobaldi in all this?

While Francesco Frescobaldi was the man who found a starving English teenager (Thomas Cromwell) on the streets of Florence, nothing is known about his immediate family. All characters focused around Frescobaldi are purely fictional, including Nicóla and Nicóletta.

Who is Machiavelli?

Niccoló Machiavelli was an Italian writer and diplomat in Florence until his death in 1527. He was at odds with the reigning Medici family, but wrote many books which have been him eternal. ‘The Prince” is his top book, basically the creation of modern political science. Seriously, grab a copy.

Much has been made of who ‘The Prince’ of Niccoló Machiavelli’s book really was. While dedicated to Lorenzo Di Piero De Medici, the book is said to be sometimes based on Cesare Borgia, the infamous son of Pope Alexander VI. The book,  published in handwritten form in 1513, was first published on a printing press in 1532, when Pope Clement VII agreed to its release. Thomas Cromwell and the Protestants were known as fans of the Machiavelli book, though Catholic kings such as Charles V, and French Queens such as Catherine de’ Medici, also endorsed the writing. Who inspired much of the book may in fact be a wide number of people, but Thomas Cromwell and his incredible mind lived in Florence from around 1503 until 1513. Very little is known around this period of his life. Is Cromwell the prince? Frescobaldi believes so.

What is the point of Cromwell’s changes to England?

Henry VIII needs rid of his first wife, who served England for twice as long as his other five wives combined.

Click here to read more on the “Great Matter”

In 1509, King Henry VIII was crowned alongside his new bride, Princess Katherine of Aragon. Katherine had married Henry’s brother, Prince Arthur, in 1501, only for him to die months later. After receiving dispensation from the Pope, the couple married and were crowned in a dual coronation, and would go on to have one daughter and lose another five children at birth.

After having affairs with several well-known mistresses, King Henry set his sights on Anne Boleyn, lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine, sometime in 1525. By 1527, Henry set his chief advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, to the task of procuring an annulment of his marriage to Katherine, on the grounds that a man could not marry his brother’s widow.

After several failed attempts to persuade Pope Clement VII to agree to an annulment, a decision was made – an ecclesiastic legatine court was to be set up in London. Two cardinals, Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, a chief confidant of the Pope, would stand in as papal legates (the Pope’s representatives), and through a hearing, decide on whether Henry and Katherine’s marriage was ever lawful in the eyes of God.

The people of England loved Queen Katherine; she had ruled for twenty years, a kind, pious and beautiful Catholic queen all could respect. But Katherine was too old to give Henry what he needed – a son to inherit the English throne. Anne Boleyn was still in her twenties – pretty, sophisticated, intelligent, and young enough to give birth to a male heir.

After being in love with Anne Boleyn for four years, King Henry had become bitter towards his Queen, and also his sixteen-year-old daughter, Princess Mary, whom he considered too unnatural to inherit the throne, as she was female. Anne Boleyn was a mistress who would not share Henry’s bed, and a combination of frustration, longing, and arrogance built in the 38-year-old ruler. Cardinal Wolsey, at Henry’s side for twenty years, and credited with countless successes at home and abroad, and the wealthiest man in England, could not give the King what he wanted, an annulment from Katherine. With the witty Anne Boleyn and her family taking Wolsey’s place at Henry’s side, and the Protestant reformers beginning to eat into England’s Catholic soul, the King could be easily swayed in any direction.

Enter Thomas Cromwell – lawyer and advisor to Thomas Wolsey, a commoner with a smart mind and vivid history throughout Europe, educated in England and Italy, who had ideas on how to create an annulment, and destroy Pope Clement’s power in the process.

By 1529, no one, noble or common, knew what would happen in their realm, and with the anger of the Holy Roman Emperor also weighing upon the annulment issue – the King’s ‘Great Matter” – the threat of war was real, all to gain a male heir for the kingdom. King Henry needed a new queen, and Katherine would never give up her crown.

Why so many characters?

They, with the exception of the Frescobaldi children, Nicóla and Nicóletta, all the characters are real people who served or opposed Henry VIII. There are a lot and they all played a role. There were many more who I have chosen not to showcase, and more will be added in the next books.

England’s royal inner circle by 1529

King Henry VIII

All-powerful, well-educated and athletic ruler of England for twenty years. Aged only 38 years old, a religious, volatile, arrogant man. Father of one legitimate heir, Princess Mary, and a bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset

Click here for more on Henry VIII

 Queen Katherine

Catholic Spanish princess married to Henry for twenty years – pious, respectable, intelligent, and mother to the only legitimate royal heir, Mary, Princess of Wales

Click here for more on Katherine

Anne Boleyn

High-educated former lady in-waiting to Queen Katherine, daughter to successful courtier Thomas Boleyn

Charles Brandon

Duke of Suffolk, and Henry’s best friend. Married to Henry’s sister Mary, Dowager Queen of France. Member of the Privy Council (advisors to the King on state matters) and the King’s Council (the King’s private advisors)

Thomas Howard

Duke of Norfolk, uncle to Anne Boleyn, close courtier to Henry. Member of the Privy Council and King’s Council

Thomas Boleyn

Lord Rochford and Lord Privy Seal (leader of the Privy Council) and member of the King’s Council. Father to Anne Boleyn, along with popular courtier George Boleyn and the beautiful Mary Boleyn, King Henry’s former mistress

Advisors and courtiers to King Henry

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

Common-born man risen through the church to become advisor to King Henry, elevated to Cardinal by the Catholic Church, and Lord Chancellor of England, the nation’s most powerful ministerial role

Click here for more on Thomas Wolsey

Thomas Cromwell

Advisor and lawyer to Thomas Wolsey. Member of parliament, wealthy merchant and money-lender. Former soldier, Italian trader and banker and English-trained scholar

Click here for more on Cromwell

Sir Thomas More

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, respected humanist, author and Catholic theologian. Loyal advisor to King Henry and champion of Dutch writer Erasmus

Thomas Cranmer

Highly educated theologian, humanist and ordained priest, and supporter of Martin Luther. Diplomat to both Spanish court and Holy Roman Emperor on King Henry’s behalf

Archdeacon Stephen Gardiner

Trained in canon (religious) and civil law, and master secretary to Cardinal Wolsey. Well-travelled diplomat, Master of Trinity Hall and expert at Cambridge University

William Warham

Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Convocation of Canterbury (religious parliament). Bound to Pope Clement and the Catholic faith

Eustace Chapuys

Imperial Ambassador to England and champion of the cause of Queen Katherine on Charles V’s behalf

Powerful Italian figures in 1529

Pope Clement VII

Pope of Rome and leader of the Catholic faith since 1523. Member of the powerful Florentine Medici dynasty. Imprisoned during the sacking of Rome by Charles V’s soldiers in 1527

Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio

Powerful and well-travelled cardinal, left in charge of Rome during the Pope’s absences, and Cardinal Legate of England. Representative of Pope Clement abroad

Charles V of Spain

King of Spain, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Italy, King of the Romans, Lord of the Netherlands and Duke of Burgundy, ruler of the German and Austrian states controlled by the Roman Empire. Nephew of Queen Katherine of England

The Medici dynasty

Multi-generational family in control of the Republic of Florence. One of the wealthiest families in Europe, creator of two Popes, including Clement. Ousted from Florence in 1527 during a siege, only to be reinstated with full control and wealth

Nicóla Frescobaldi

Effeminate bastard son to the late Francesco Frescobaldi, a wealthy Florentine merchant and banker. Reclusive favourite courtier of Pope Clement, highly educated man of business and theology

Nicóletta Frescobaldi

Only living daughter of Francesco Frescobaldi. Pre-contracted in marriage to Alessandro de’ Medici

Well known figures in Europe in 1529

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. Creator of the Latin New Testament bible based on Greek texts

William Tyndale

Creator of the English language bible, translated from Greek and Hebrew texts. Supporter of Protestant reform. In exile from England and against Henry’s annulment

Martin Luther

German theologian, excommunicated priest and creator of the Protestant Reformation and the German language bible

Niccoló Machiavelli

Recently deceased Florentine diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer. Creator of political science

King Francis I of France

Popular young King of France. Well-educated writer and patron to Leonardo da Vinci. Signed the peace treaty at the Field of Cloth of Gold with England

Alessandro de’ Medici

The last senior member of the original Medici generation, illegitimate son of Pope Clement, set to rule Florence. His ‘sister’, Catherine de’ Medici, is set to become a French princess

Stephen Vaughan

English merchant, royal agent and diplomat, and strong supporter of the Protestant Reformation

Popular English courtiers in 1529

Ralph Sadler

Ward and master secretary to Thomas Cromwell

Richard (Williams) Cromwell

Nephew and attendant to Thomas Cromwell

George Cavendish

Writer and faithful attendant to Thomas Wolsey

Edmund Bonner

Faithful friend and chaplain to Thomas Wolsey

Sir Thomas Audley

Barrister and Speaker in the House of Commons

Richard Rich

Popular lawyer and member of parliament

Thomas Wriothesley

Lawyer serving Thomas Cromwell and Stephen Gardiner, clerk of the royal court

Sir Henry Norris                        

Sir Francis Weston

Sir William Brereton                                 

Sir Francis Bryan

Members of the privy chamber of  King Henry

Mark Smeaton

Talented young English composer and musician

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Diplomat, politician, poet, loved friend of Anne Boleyn

Hans Holbein the Younger

Popular German artist, given royal favour for his extraordinary portrait talents

What else do I need to know?

Check out the author Q+A Part 2 on the book for more, or click here to read the first chapter free right now.

A Cromwell Adventure- Part 3: King Henry VIII

The infamous painting of Henry by Hans Holbein the Younger

Everyone knows Henry; famous ginger, head chopper, tantrum thrower, binge eater, wife collector. But while writing Frailty of Human Affairs, I found that beyond those few things, people knew less than I expected. So, instead of writing lengthy discussions about his life, here is a brief round-up, plus the obvious and less-obvious facts on King Henry VIII.

NB: you dapper British people probably know everything

Facts you probably know about King Henry VIII
  • King Henry loved to party. A childhood of relaxation meant he took the throne without any preparation
  • Of Henry’s six famous queens, three of them were named Catherine. That’s weird
  • Henry had Anne Boleyn as a queen, Mary Boleyn as a mistress (separately, phew)
  • Henry took the throne aged only 17, and held on until age 55
  • Henry had England and Wales and Ireland together, but never secured Scotland
  • Henry was not a huge fat man his whole life. He was over six feet tall (huge then) and regarded as a handsome, athletic man. (Might be true; people couldn’t write he was ugly, could they). Henry was considered a catch, crown or not
  • Henry brought the Protestant faith to England, crushing Catholic rule. It would have happened without him, just slower, and maybe less bloody. Religion is a nightmare
  • Henry had a bastard son, named Henry. The poor boy died as a teenager, much the same way as Henry’s legitimate son, at much the same age. Coincidence?
  • Henry fell from his horse while jousting in 1536, bursting open his thigh, which never healed, making him in disgusting pain, and probably mad as hell all the time. The same accident likely caused massive brain injuries
  • Henry got upwards of 180kgs when he died. That’s upwards of 400 pounds for you Americans, upwards of 30 stone for you Brits. Eww
  • Had diabetes been a thing, Henry would probably have been diagnosed due to his weight issues. The obesity is, in theory, part of the brain injury caused by his famous 1536 jousting accident
  • Henry loved playing jokes on people, plus dancing and generally goofing around
  • Henry was great with languages; he spoke English and French, along with Latin, bits of Spanish (obviously) and even some ancient Greek

Facts you probably didn’t know about Henry VIII

  • Henry was a publisher author, writing on the Catholic faith (his love for it, while it suited him), and also wrote music, and the odd love poem
  • Henry ruled a spot of Belgium in 1513 when he invaded Tournai. Okay, France owned it then, but still. He gave it back in 1518
  • Henry loved tennis (as they played it then).
  • Henry said his fourth wife looked as ugly as a horse. He was no oil painting by that stage himself. Poor Thomas Cromwell got beheaded due to her ‘ugliness’ and Henry’s inability to get an erection
  • Henry is buried with wife number 3, because she bore a living son, not Katherine his first wife, who he knew since the age of only 10. Dick.
  • Henry basically created the English navy. They only had five boats when he took power. They had more like 50 ships by the time he died.
  • Henry and Anne Boleyn were not love at first sight. Anne had been floating around court for a while, trying to win a chosen duke for a husband by the time Henry stopped sleeping with her sister and noticed her
  • All of Henry’s wives were descendants of King Edward I to some degree. But the nobility was always an inbred lot
  • Henry beheaded 72,000 people, including two wives and one Thomas Cromwell!
  • Henry lost one million pounds (today’s figures) on gambling in only three years. But he never played with people who couldn’t afford to lose. Kind of nice, I guess…
  • Henry’s only descendants are in dispute. Mary Boleyn had two children, rumoured to be his (or at least the daughter, not so much the son). Queen Elizabeth II would be related to Henry if there was a way to prove the link. The facts make a very strong case (it’s hard to hide affairs when babies come out ginger). Current Prince George would be related to Henry on both sides of his family!
  • Henry had a fear of illness. He moved constantly to avoid plague and sweating sickness. After Prince Arthur died, it probably made Henry paranoid of the Tudors’ losing the crown. Every little thing needed to be checked out for Henry; he would take no risks (can’t blame him; germs were friggin’ everywhere!)
  • It’s claimed Henry had syphilis, but he never displayed symptoms, nor the side effects of syphilis treatment. He was no ladies man; he had his favourites
  • Henry was neat and tidy, not the food guzzling pig imagined. He liked to eat in private and was a fastidious hand washer at meal times
  • It’s theorised that Henry had Kell positive blood, a blood type that, if passed to a child, it would abort the fetus. That would explain so many dead children, especially for Queen Katherine
  • Henry’s beloved sister Mary married his best friend, Charles Brandon, secretly in France. Henry was livid – Charles was only there to collect Mary because her husband of three months, the King of France, had dropped dead
Henry looking smug in 1531, by Joos van Cleve

Henry, before he favoured beheading

Little Henry was born 28 June, 1491, at the Palace of Placentia (now demolished) in Greenwich. He was baby number three, the second son of his father Henry VII, the first Tudor king. His mother, Elizabeth, was the great white rose of York, the marriage ending the War of the Roses and civil war in England. He had a comfy childhood as he was not to be king, as his older brother Arthur was groomed for the role. Henry grew up with his mother, older sister Margaret and younger sister Mary. His younger brother Edmund and youngest sister Katherine did not survive infancy.

Childhood was a lavish affair, with many titles given to him and a top-notch education, the spoiled little boy in a household of women. At age ten, Henry was part of his brother Arthur’s wedding to the legendary Princess Katherine of Aragon. Then everything changed for little ginger Henry.

On 2 April, 1502, just twenty weeks into marriage, Prince Arthur died of sweating sickness at Ludlow Castle in Wales. Suddenly  Henry was next in line to be king. His parents Henry and Elizabeth had adored Arthur and trained him well, and now were terrified to lose their only son, and possibly peace in their country if Henry didn’t ascend the throne. But Henry took on no royal duties, and while he was elevated in status, he could never go anywhere.

Queen Consort Elizabeth could do only one thing to help her country; have another son, in case something happened to Henry. She fell pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, who died after birth. Sadly, Henry then lost his precious mother to childbirth fever. But the kingdom couldn’t wait; within months Henry was betrothed to his brother’s widow, and his sister Margaret was sold off to be Queen of Scotland. Henry and his sister Mary, three years younger than himself, became even closer in a world which hid them away in preparation for the future, he as King of England, her as Queen of France.

As Henry aged, he disliked the idea of marrying Katherine of Aragon, and called off the arrangement, leaving Katherine in poverty in London, as her Spanish king father would not take her back and her powerful mother died.

Henry VII died on 21 April 1509, which left 17-year-old Henry as the King. He buried his father and decided to marry the 23-year-old Spanish princess after all, his father’s dying wish (maybe; sounded good, right?). They had a small wedding but had a dual and incredible coronation at Westminster. Henry and Katherine were a happy couple, lucky considering arranged marriages.

Henry in 1509, artist unknown

Henry, the young, prudish, king ready to take power

It was time to start beheadings. Men Henry disliked, or were found guilty of crimes, were quickly dispatched; men disliked by Henry VII were pardoned or released and Henry VIII’s enemies were chopped. But as Henry found his way, his first daughter was  stillborn in early 1510. New Year’s Day 1511 brought a precious boy named Henry, who died a few weeks into his short but celebrated life. More stillborn sons in 1514 and 1515 brought strain to the happy couple, before Princess Mary was born healthy in early 1516. Katherine again bore a stillborn daughter in 1518, bringing an end to the royal offspring.

Henry had a few mistresses, as was custom when a woman was pregnant (which was a lot). He kept Anne Hastings early in his marriage, and then Elizabeth Blount from 1516. Blount gave birth to a bastard son named Henry in 1519, and he was made a duke, despite being illegitimate. A king’s manhood needed soothing after all, and a son did that greatly.

Henry met with the King of France and the Pope in 1520. Apparently a dragon went too. artist unknown

It wasn’t all sleeping around. Henry invaded France in 1513 while pregnant Katherine invaded Scotland and killed their King, who was married to Henry’s sister Margaret. War in France went badly, but Henry’s beloved sister Mary was made the French Queen for a few months and then peace reigned. With young kings in England, France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, Europe was unusually calm. England and France had the famous Field of Cloth and Gold in 1520, a lavish peace treaty signing, and Henry was named Defender of the Faith by the Pope in 1521, as Henry was a jovial king, but also a well-read and religious man.

But there was no legitimate son and heir. Henry was still young, and in 1525, was sleeping with Mary Boleyn, who was rumoured  to have birthed two ginger children (Catherine and Henry; pick new names, people!), but were officially considered her husband’s children. But by 1526, Henry was deeply in love (lust? womb envy?) with Mary’s sister, Anne.

Henry needed to find a way out of a marriage nearly twenty years old.

Then we move to the part of Henry’s life people know.

When the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Katherine, and Cardinal Wolsey, King’s closest friend and advisor, couldn’t help him (and then died on the way to his trial and execution!), Henry got Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s secretary, to change the laws of England and crush the Catholic Church’s power in England, creating the Church of England and Protestant reform. Henry married Anne in 1533 and Katherine, the perfect wife for over twenty years, was stuck out in the countryside in poverty.

Henry in around 1537 by Hans Holbein the Younger

But Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and had two miscarriages. Henry’s cut off Anne’s head on fake charges of adultery in 1536. He married Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, ten days later and she bore a son in 1537, only to die weeks later. Henry then married a German Protestant noble Anne of Cleves, to help fend off Catholic enemies domestically (the country was half of fire over the religious changes as monasteries were ruined) and abroad, only to find Anne ugly. Henry annulled Anne of Cleves, cut off Thomas Cromwell’s head as punishment for the idea, married Catherine Howard, an English teenager only one-third of his age, but cut her head off 18 months later for adultery. So Henry married another Catherine, Catherine Parr, then bankrupted the country losing in a war against France, and then died fat, old, cranky and possibly mentally ill. But he had his precious male heir (who died as a teenager, but that is another story).

Henry in 1542 by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Henry I write of in Thomas Cromwell’s life is from 1529 onwards, a man touching 40 and desperate to gain a son. It is all before his brain injury, his changes and his rampant tantrums, though they will make their presence felt! What kind of man was Henry before he became old and bitter? That I have been able to create for myself.

Henry’s six queens. (Anne of Cleves, wife 4, bottom left, is so not ugly!)

 Up next – Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

~~

all photos auto-linked to source for credit

A Cromwell Adventure – Part 2: Thomas Cromwell

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

Thomas Cromwell – lawyer, politician, religious reformer, mercenary, charmer, merchant, party thrower, country changer, money-lender, queenmaker. When people hear the name Cromwell, they think of Oliver Cromwell. Wrong century. Thomas Cromwell is the only man in English history you need to know. He managed to destroy the Catholic Church’s hold in England and their greatest queen all at once, and became a common man who took over England, and the nobility couldn’t do a thing about it. Here is a short and simple introduction.

Cromwell’s birth is not recorded, but thought around 1485, in Putney, to mother Katherine and father Walter, a blacksmith, merchant and brewery owner. He was simply another common baby born, along with two sisters, around Putney Hill.  In his own words, he was a ruffian as a child. At some stage, Cromwell left home and travelled to France, became be a mercenary in the French army, marched into Italy, and fought as a soldier in the battle of Garigliano in December 1503, all by about 18 years old.

Then Cromwell’s life turned around. Starving and homeless, Cromwell found himself in Florence, where he met a banker named Francesco Frescobaldi, an English-speaking merchant who took him into his household, giving him a home and a job. Working as a merchant on Frescobaldi’s behalf, it is believed Cromwell worked successfully in Florence and the Low Countries (what is now parts of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg). He created his own network of merchants in English, Italian and Flemish, though very little is known of this empire-building part of his life. But he is recorded as a patient in a Roman hospital in June 1514, and Cromwell pops up in Vatican archives as an agent for the Archbishop of York and working for the Roman Rota (like a Catholic Church court system).

Cromwell doesn’t appear anywhere until his name appears back in England, when he married Elizabeth Wyckes in 1515, a girl who also grew up in Putney, but was a widow after her first husband, a Yeoman of the Guard, passed away. Three children came into Cromwell’s life – Gregory in about 1520, Anne and then Grace soon after.

Cromwell found himself a job in the household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. England’s most powerful man, a favourite of King Henry. Henry was inclined to leave the heavy lifting in the kingdom to Wolsey. With his knowledge as a lawyer (yes, that happened somewhere along the way), in 1517 Cromwell returned to Rome to visit Pope Leo X on Wolsey’s behalf, where he was said to have charmed the Pope into seeing him and granted the papal bull (like a decree or patent) he required for his master. He returned a year later to again see the Pope, such was Wolsey’s trust in Cromwell.

By 1520 Cromwell was doing well, in both legal and merchants circles in England. He continued his work for Wolsey, but also earned money as a lawyer and cloth merchant, and in 1523, won a seat in parliament (the where’s and how’s are not firmly established). But parliament was dissolved (Henry and Wolsey disliked people making decisions for them), and Cromwell was accepted to Gray’s Inn (like passing the bar for lawyers) in 1524.

Cromwell took on more work and started to become more powerful under Wolsey at this time. In 1525 he did Wolsey’s dirty work and closed corrupt monasteries, to redirect their money into building The King’s School, Ipswich (now Ipswich School) and Cardinal College in Oxford (now Christ Church, part of Oxford University). Cromwell was one of Wolsey’s council members by 1526 and his secretary in 1529. Then things took their dramatic turn.

Thomas Cromwell, as played by Mark Rylance in BBC’s ‘Wolf Hall’

Around 1528-1529, Cromwell’s wife and two daughters all died of sweating sickness (a bit like the plague without the boils). King Henry was trying to divorce Queen Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn. Wolsey and another Cardinal, Lorenzo Campeggio from Rome, sat in legatine court to decide on whether the King could gain an annulment. When the court folded, Henry turned on his well-known rage, and Wolsey was fired, banished and humiliated. Cromwell was determined not to suffer the fate of his master and friend.

Anne Boleyn hated Wolsey with a passion, and Cromwell moved out of the Cardinal’s shadow and charmed his way into working directly for King Henry. In late 1530, Wolsey died on his way to execution (you couldn’t make this up) and Cromwell set to making Anne Boleyn queen, and also breaking the stranglehold of the Catholic faith in England. Countries like Germany (or the areas that make up modern Germany) were reforming, creating the Protestant faith, freeing Catholics from the Latin scriptures and suffocating nature of the Church. Cromwell found that reforming the Church was the way to ensure Anne Boleyn could be queen. Cromwell got himself into a prime role beside the king, and got himself back into parliament, and completed a series of law changes which stripped the Church’s power and made annulment possible (I’m massively over-simplifying here). Anne Boleyn gained her crown in June 1533, and Princess Elizabeth was born three months later. The Pope had not annulled Henry’s marriage to Katherine, but by now the Church of England existed and Henry was the leader, not the Pope. Cromwell was a hero in Henry’s eyes, and hated by pretty much everyone else.

In 1534, Cromwell was King Henry’s chief minister, plus in parliament, and running the royal treasury, the royal jewel house, the steward of Westminster and many other titles. With the chance to continue reforming religion, Cromwell had Henry’s blessing to continue with destroying the Catholic Church, interrogating and killing clergymen, weeding out corruption, and famously had everyone in England swear an oath stating Henry ruled the Church, not the Pope. When famous haters of reform, and Queen Katherine supporters, Sir Thomas More (now Saint Thomas More) and Bishop John Fisher (now also a saint) refused to take the oath, Cromwell had them both beheaded in June 1535. The King appointed Cromwell Royal Vicegerent and Vicar-General of England, and Cromwell conducted an extensive census, so he could start taxing monasteries around the nation (the monasteries had money pouring from every gap, powerful in their communities and known for corruption). By now, Cromwell was unpopular with most, but loved by King Henry ever more. Cromwell had total power over the Church in England, which made him as powerful as Henry himself.

Is this Thomas Cromwell? A recreation kept by The National Trust for Scotland in Aberdeenshire

Viceregent Cromwell passed a law suppressing lesser monasteries in England, so their funds could be directed to Henry’s accounts. Queen Anne did not like this, and turned on her precious Cromwell, forgetting he was the power that made her Queen. She had her chaplain preach against him before the royal court, making him an enemy. Anne wanted the monastery money sent to the people for education and charity, while Cromwell followed Henry’s orders and gave it to the royal accounts. Already Anne Boleyn had failed in giving Henry a son that she promised, and now she had Cromwell, England’s real power, against her.

With Jane Seymour, one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting, catching Henry’s eye, Anne became unpopular with the King (the only person who liked her). So when Henry wanted a new queen, a pretty blonde girl was ready, and Cromwell was more than ready to destroy the queen had made only a few years earlier. He had his power and the dissolution of religious control. Anne Boleyn had to die.

Cromwell had Anne Boleyn arrested and tried in May 1536 of adultery, with her brother George, Henry’s close friends and staff Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, and court musician Mark Smeaton. Also tried was Thomas Wyatt, court poet and diplomat, but he was a friend of Cromwell, and was spared. In court, Cromwell had the judges find Anne and the men all guilty of adultery and sentenced to death, all with the King’s blessing. All the heads quickly rolled and Henry married Jane Seymour ten days later.

Is this Thomas Cromwell? A 1859 engraving published in Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, Germany.

Now Baron Cromwell and Lord Privy Seal, Cromwell enjoyed total control, passing more laws destroying anything Catholic related, and even great monasteries in England were pulled down. The Church was pulled from the people and Protestant changes were forced upon everyone. Henry got his beloved son from Jane Seymour, only to have her die in childbirth in July 1537. But Cromwell had his own troubles as the commoners were marching in their tens of thousands, calling for his head over the changes being made to their country. The famous Pilgrimage of Grace against Cromwell failed, and English Bibles turned out over England while Catholic relics were gathered and destroyed. By mid 1539, the Catholic Church was more or less wiped out thanks to Cromwell’s extensive law changes. But Henry was sick of the changes, unhappy with the unrest in England, and in need of wife number 4.

The famous sole surviving painting of Thomas Cromwell, done by Hans Holbein, year unknown. It is said it was hidden to protect it from being destroyed – but by whom?

Queenmaker Cromwell found Anne of Cleves, a German noblewoman, from a Protestant nation (Cleves was tiny country/province now in Germany), but Henry, now a fat old man, said his new German bride was too ugly for him (again, this is massively over-simplifying). Cromwell took the blame for Henry marrying a German girl he wouldn’t (or many say couldn’t) bed. Like Henry’s libido, Cromwell’s favour had run out.

But in April 1540, Henry made Cromwell an earl and named him Lord Chamberlain. Trouble was, Cromwell’s huge list of enemies had pushed teenager Catherine Howard forward as a new bride. Cromwell was the man who married Henry to an ‘ugly’ woman, and his enemies had fresh meat for him to defile. Henry turned on Cromwell, having him arrested on heresy and treason charges, but mostly because Anne of Cleves wasn’t pretty enough. A serious of false charges were thrown at Cromwell, tossed in the Tower, and he was beheaded, in what is mentioned as the worst beheading ever (as in, the executioner needed to butcher him to get the head off) on 28 July 1540. Henry married Catherine Howard the same day, only to cut off her head less than two years later (Anne of Cleves got an annulment, kept her virginity, and lived happily in England for all her days).

Henry soon regretted losing Cromwell, and a replacement never took Cromwell’s place beside Henry. The vast amounts of money Cromwell made for Henry was squandered in a petty French war in 1545, and all Cromwell had done was lost. His son Gregory (who had married Jane Seymour’s sister) died in 1551 of sweating sickness, and there was a rumour of a bastard daughter named Jane, though none of that has been proven (you shall have to read my book for that).

the famous sole surviving painting of Cromwell, done by Hans Holbein, year unknown. It was hidden so it couldn’t be destroyed – but by whom, and where?

Cromwell’s Protestant England caused countless deaths, with Henry’s son being a Protestant king, his daughter Mary a Catholic queen and then Queen Elizabeth back to Protestant. Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn’s only child, made the country firmly Protestant and the changes to law and government made by Cromwell were built on to help shape what England has become.

Cromwell disappeared from history, only one portrait of him surviving, his paperwork all destroyed during his trial. In 1953, Geoffrey Elton wrote of Cromwell, studying and discovering, while Henry was a mastermind and despot, it was Cromwell who held the real power of the era. Cromwell brought government from the medieval times to the modern age and was portrayed as the bad guy, until the last decade, where tv and books have tried to show Cromwell in a more positive light.

My first Cromwell book will focus on his creation of Anne Boleyn, the second about the creation of Jane Seymour, and finally the creation of Anne of Cleves, all books covering his creation of Protestant England. Thomas Cromwell is no longer a forgotten genius.

Check back for very regular updates on posts about all the character of Frailty of Human Affairs, out September 1.