HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘ The Reluctant Ambassador’ by Dan O’Sullivan

Sir Thomas Chaloner achieved much during his short life. As someone at the heart of four Tudor courts, his experience is fascinating.

Serving in the household of Thomas Cromwell after university, he later was entrusted with delicate diplomatic missions in France, Scotland, Flanders and finally Spain, where he was resident ambassador at the court of Philip II. His career was helped by his close friendship with William Cecil, whom he got to know at Oxford. He managed to stay employed during the religious and political upheavals of four reigns, while many close to him lost their positions and even their lives.

Chaloner was an intellectual and a humanist. He had a close circle of literary friends with whom he collaborated in the staging of court masques and other productions. He produced reams of verse and also translated several works from Latin, among them The Praise of Folly by Erasmus.

In Spain, Chaloner devoted much energy toward trying to save dozens of English sailors who had found themselves imprisoned as a result of bitter trade disputes between England and Spain. The stresses of his job weakened him physically, and he died soon after his recall, leaving a wife and young son.

Dan O’Sullivan explores the life of Chaloner and delves into the intricacies of European court life during the time of the Tudors. Chaloner, a reluctant ambassador who longed for his home in England, is a fascinating but little-known character who is here brought to life in vivid detail.

cover and blurb via amazon

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In 1541, Holy Roman Emperor Charles, who ruled much of Europe, went to war against the Turks and the Barbary pirates. He planned to besiege Algiers to free Christians from pirates, but could not attack Constantinople, as he did not have the numbers. One of these men onboard was Thomas Chaloner, on his first trip abroad from England. The fleet was caught in a storm, resulting in the loss of 8,000 lives as ships sank.

Chaloner was lucky; he could swim, unlike most. In fact, he had much luck in his early life. With a wealthy merchant father, Chaloner went to Cambridge and was given a job in Thomas Cromwell’s house. Still in his teen years, Chaloner could ready himself for life at court, learn politics and Latin, Italian and French. At St Johns College, he made a friend named William Cecil, which would help Chaloner again later in life.

Chaloner had sailed abroad as a diplomat, there to represent England while Charles V took on the Turks, and was one of the few who survived the Mediterranean storms. He went home to a new England – wife number five of Henry, Katherine Howard, was about to die. But change helped, as Chaloner gained a place on the privy council as a clerk, and as Henry failed to rule his country properly, or had Thomas Cromwell to fall back on, Chaloner was there with the men who ran England, while still in his early twenties.

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Chaloner had languages, and this made him key as a diplomat, both with overseas missions as England forged wars, and at home. By 1547, Chaloner was negotiating with the Scots to stop fighting and help gain a royal marriage for his young new king. Chaloner felt high in esteem at court, already wealthy with his inheritance and marriage to a wealthy widow. He was a humanist, enjoying the Protestant reformation.

Edward IV died in 1553 and while Chaloner’s school friend, William Cecil, and countless more fled to Europe, Chaloner decided to try to stay working for the government through the Catholic changes brought by Queen Mary. Chaloner wrote poems for Jane Grey, beheaded after her nine days as queen, but quietly managed to stay alive and work for Mary.

By by 1558, Mary was dead, and many flocked home to their Protestant princess as she was crowned Elizabeth I. Constant Chaloner was sent to meet the Holy Roman Emperor  to discuss marriage for Elizabeth, her most difficult issue throughout her reign. Chaloner then travelled to the Netherlands on Her Majesty’s behalf, only to learn his school friend, William Cecil, now Elizabeth’s right-hand man, had selected him to be ambassador to Spain.
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Chaloner hated Spain, with its Catholic soul and its intense heat. He hated Madrid with a passion; it cost too much, he never got much time with the king, and the Spanish didn’t let him be part of their secret conversations. Chaloner seemed to worry about everything, especially about being robbed of his wage as ambassador. Trouble came when Chaloner told the Spanish court that England would not support the Huguenots in France during civil war, only to find out the English had headed to battle.
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One thing fell into place for Chaloner; he couldn’t sleep in Spain and the food made him ill. Because of this, he had many nights awake, when he got write Latin poems. The poems told much of Chaloner’s time in Spain; after four years, he was convinced he would die and worried about everything.
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It was a bad time to be at the Spanish court. England was not popular with Spain, ships constantly were embattled, bureaucracy was, well, Spanish, the inquisitions were in full swing. Chaloner ended up with kidney stones from Spanish wine mixed with lime and chalk. His only bright spot was a woman named Audrey Frodsham, who travelled to Spain from England with a view to marry Chaloner once his first wife died. The trip must have gone well, because Audrey went home pregnant.
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After arguing with the Spanish government over English sailors in Spanish prisons for several years, Chaloner was finally allowed to return home to England. In 1565, he landed in England to find Audrey in his house, with a young baby in tow, named Thomas jnr. Chaloner married Audrey and then died a month later of illness.
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 Chaloner was a man able to serve in four royal households in a time when many lost their head. As much as he liked to complain, Chaloner must have been doing something right, even if it did make him into a hypochondriac. I had never even heard of Chaloner until I read this book, and a big thanks to the author for a vivid book about a lesser-known Tudor figure.
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HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The King’s Pearl’ by Melita Thomas

Mary Tudor has always been known as ‘Bloody Mary’, the name given to her by later Protestant chroniclers who vilified her for attempting to re-impose Roman Catholicism in England. Although a more nuanced picture of the first queen regnant has since emerged, she is still stereotyped, depicted as a tragic and lonely figure, personally and politically isolated after the annulment of her parents’ marriage and rescued from obscurity only through the good offices of Katherine Parr.

Although Henry doted on Mary as a child and called her his ‘pearl of the world’, her determination to side with her mother over the annulment both hurt him as a father and damaged perceptions of him as a monarch commanding unhesitating obedience. However, once Mary had finally been pressured into compliance, Henry reverted to being a loving father and Mary played an important role in court life.

As Melita Thomas points out, Mary was a gambler – and not just with cards. Later, she would risk all, including her life, to gain the throne. As a young girl of just seventeen she made the first throw of the dice, defiantly maintaining her claim to be Henry’s legitimate daughter against the determined attempts of Anne Boleyn and the king to break her spirit.

Following the 500th anniversary of Mary’s birth, The King’s Pearl re-examines Mary’s life during the reign of Henry VIII and her complex, dramatic relationship with her father.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Called Bloody Mary through the centuries, Queen Mary has never attracted the same level of interest as her little sister Elizabeth I. This book has set out to change the stereotype of Mary, heir to the throne of Henry VIII and her powerful mother, the Queen Katherine. Mary has been seen as a Catholic fanatic, unable to navigate politics with poise or experience, a cruel woman happy to kill Protestants without thought. Mary is seen as married to a Spaniard, which somehow made her an instant tyrant.

In recent times, some authors have tried to make Mary into a more gentle figure; an innocent woman, forced away from her religious mother, determined to turn back time in England, unable to satisfy a husband or make an heir. The King’s Pearl is different again, which makes the book such a nice surprise. Instead, this book looks at Mary from an earlier angle, how her father’s reign impacted on Mary.

Mary’s early life is chronicled in serious detail, before the reality of Henry’s ‘Great Matter’ starts affecting Mary and her life. Mary was a stylish and educated young woman, witty, musical and a skilled horse rider. Mary was not weak or timid, as often portrayed; not constantly alone or at prayer, Mary could hunt or dance, host parties or play games as well as any young woman. She was beautiful and always immaculately dressed. Gone are the dull descriptions that often plagued her mother also, more likely propaganda to portray Elizabeth as superior later in life.

The list of betrothals Mary suffered though makes for bleak reading. Henry never seemed serious in finding a groom for his daughter. Mary was an unchallenged heir for much of her young life, and Henry seemed wary to ever marry her off and make her position as heir more powerful. Mary could defy her father at any time, on any level, and while others were forsaken, Mary was forgiven by Henry, dispelling the notion Henry hated his eldest daughter.

Mary may have had more in common with Elizabeth than either of them would have liked to admit; bright, intelligent girls, separated by their birth and their religion. I feel as if Mary’s reputation suffers due to her sex more than ever – Mary killed less than 300 heretics, her father killed 72,000, yet she is the bloody one? No man would have had a harmed reputation for the killing of 300. Mary rode out and took the throne from Jane Grey, the throne that was rightfully hers, and did her best, in a role she was prepared for, and Mary had her own terms. Only history hasn’t remembered her as well as it should.

This book is a worthy read indeed. Loved it. The author has created an excellent perspective on Queen Mary through facts instead of myth.

A Cromwell Adventure – Part 6: Anne Boleyn

a copy of an Anne Boleyn painting, thought to be from about 1534

Everyone knows Anne Boleyn; home wrecker, whore, poisoner, birther of the vicious redheaded queen, married to a vicious redheaded king. But as we all know, history is not kind to women, thus most of what is known is a lie, and most basic details about Anne’s life are not known by the wider public. Here is a neat round-up if you are new.

Anne was the daughter of Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk (and brother of the 3rd, obviously), and Thomas Boleyn, a courtier and diplomat (who married up in my opinion). Anne’s birthdate is unknown, and is either accepted as 1501 or 1507. It has been suggested Anne was born anywhere from 1499 to 1512, but as a daughter, the date was not considered worth recording. Based on research and writings, it is generally believed Anne’s sister Mary was born 1499, and her brother George was born about 1504, putting Anne around 1501 (as Eric Ives claims; he’s my personal Anne historian of choice). There is also evidence of further Boleyn sons, Thomas and Henry, but we will leave that for another post.

Anne was born to parents with a rich family history in the  Howards and their Norfolk dukedom, though the Boleyn family also boasted Earls, knights and one Lord Mayor. The Howard family could be traced right back to King Edward I, and Anne’s family were well-respected and noble by the time of her birth.

Anne Boleyn moved across to Europe in 1513, aged either 12 or 6 (depending on your preference) to study while her father worked for the ruler of the Netherlands, Margarete of Austria (daughter to the Holy Roman Emperor). Anne learned the traditional subjects of dancing, sewing, manners, music, singing, along with more useful skills such as math, history, grammar, reading and writing, etc. Anne’s mind would have quickly flourished with all this, along with more social subjects like chess, dice, falconry and hawking, horseriding and hunting. Anne sent a year in her studies and serving at the court until her father arranged for her to go to France, to serve King Henry’s sister Mary, who was due to marry the King of France.

Princess Mary’s marriage to the French king lasted three months before he died, but Anne stayed in France, serving the new Queen Claude for seven years. The life and education Anne would have received is unclear, but would have been the best a girl could have hoped for. The French court would have taught her French culture, along with their games, dances, literature music and poetry, and the ever-present flirting and courtly love. The French court would have also influenced Anne’s religious beliefs, where the traditional Catholic learnings were being questioned by many reformers and writers.

Anne was a pretty girl, with dark hair and black eyes, and olive-coloured skin, rather than the more pasty English and French girls. But her personality was what shined, setting her apart from others. Anne was also known as educated, witty, funny and sophisticated. She could gossip and flirt as well as any, then also hunt, gamble and play with the best of them. Anne’s lack of beauty (or what was considered a beauty standard of the era) was noted, yet her charm made up for it (that’s not my view, it’s the sexist opinion of the time). Much has been made of her appearance, such as her sixth finger (could have been nothing, could have been little more than a sixth nail, no one knows), to moles on her neck, crooked teeth, jaundice skin, but much of it is considered a 16th century way of blackening her reputation over time. King’s don’t leave their queens for monster-like women, do they?

Anne’s family had been busy while she lived it up in France. Her older sister Mary had also been in France, but was called home in 1519, and much was made her whoreish behaviour at the court, even with the new French king. Mary was married off to William Carey in 1520, but then became King Henry’s mistress, up until around 1525. One or both of her children may have been Henry’s. Again, that’s another post.

Anne’s father Thomas had been locked in a dispute for the title of Earl of Ormond in Ireland, as the eldest son of one of the women who had inherited the title from their father. With many family members battling for the prize, it was decided Anne had to leave France in 1522. She came home to England, with plans to marry into Ireland, to James Butler, a cousin also with a claim to the title. Anne had no desire for the plan, and Thomas Boleyn kept negotiations slow, so slow that James Butler married someone else in the family for the inheritance.

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Holbein style painting of (probably) Anne, date unknown

Anne went to the English court in 1522, bursting on the scene in a masque for King Henry, alongside her sister Mary, and the king’s sister (also a Mary). It wasn’t long before Englishmen were falling over themselves for Anne, though King Henry was still bedding her sister. Despite loving the attentions and affections, Anne fell in love with Henry Percy, future Duke of Northumberland. Only, his father, the current duke, hated the idea, and Anne’s and Henry private betrothal was cut off by Percy’s family and Percy’s boss Cardinal Wolsey, the most powerful man in the country and right hand of the king.

Anne continued in the service of Queen Katherine, and spent much time with her friend Thomas Wyatt, whose love for Anne grew with their friendship. Wyatt’s wife had been charged with adultery, but there was one bigger obstacle. Anne’s sister Mary had fallen pregnant again during her affair with the King, and his eye needed a new girl to bed, and it fell on Anne in late 1525/early 1526. Poor Wyatt had to stand back, and Anne spent time away from court at Hever Castle, to avoid Henry. But he was a persistent man, and a king, so eventually Anne came around to being a mistress, but a celibate one. Anne was smarter than her sister.

King Henry wanted out of his marriage to Katherine. Now he had met a woman worthy of being a new queen. Anne was young and had a womb that might give Henry and England a son and heir. By 1527, Henry was petitioning the Pope for annulment, to no avail. Everything was tried (see my great matter post if you aren’t aware).  But in 1528, Anne, along with much of England, caught the sweating sickness, a now-ancient illness which killed within days. Anne managed to survive the illness, a rare occasion, though her sister’s husband (and cuckold) did not. Henry sent his best doctor to care for Anne (though went nowhere near her himself, a real germophobe) and she became his obsession; Henry had to marry her at any cost.

Long story short, Henry could not gain an annulment and solve the great matter, not from the Pope, nor the legatine court set up in London to decide on his marriage’s validity. This is when Anne’s influence as a woman educated in reformation and Protestant teaching came in useful. She had Henry turn on the leader of England, Cardinal Wolsey, and along with Thomas Cromwell, Anne had moves made to extract the Catholic faith from laws around marriage. Queen Katherine was banished from court and Anne and Cromwell was at Henry’s side in all matters (but Anne still wouldn’t get in bed with Henry).
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imagined painting of Anne and Elizabeth by Gustaf Wappers 1838
In late 1532, Anne went with Henry  to the French court, and Anne, now Marquess of Pembroke in her own right (yet another post), was presented as future queen of England. It is suggested this is when Anne gave in to Henry’s sexual demands, and they married in secret in London in January 1533, or even more secretly in France months earlier (yet another post). Together with Cromwell’s law changes, and a reformer placed as Archbishop of Canterbury saw Henry and Anne allowed to be legally married and Anne crowned in June 1533.
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Anne gave birth in September 1533, to Princess Elizabeth, not the son she had promised the king. Laws were sent out, making sure only Elizabeth could inherit the throne, not Henry’s daughter Mary, Queen Katherine’s daughter. Heads rolled as influential men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher refused to agree to Henry’s rule over the church and baby Elizabeth’s inheritance. Anne was lavished as the new queen; she had 250 servants in her household and spent much time on the love and attention of her daughter. Historians state Anne lost a child in late 1534 and Henry was tiring of his new wife. His first wife was still alive, tucked away in poverty, and Anne, his pet project, wouldn’t give him a son as promised. Henry didn’t want to go back to Katherine, and made up with Anne, who got pregnant again by spring 1535.
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19th century imagined sketch of Henry and Anne by George Cruikshank
1536 had a bumpy start, but Queen Katherine died of cancer, causing joy for Henry and Anne. Finally Anne was out from Katherine’s shade and she could be recognised as a queen, not a whore. Everyone believed Katherine was poisoned by Anne, but there was no proof, but Princess Mary, Katherine’s daughter, was not forgiving to Anne. But Henry was tired of his second wife, and with her pregnant, as his eye found Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting (one of sixty!). In late January, King Henry’s famous accident occurred, when he fell during a joust and was unconscious for two hours. Anne was in a panic, and miscarried her son five days later.
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Henry had a blonde in his sights, and Anne’s son was dead. Anne was forced to see Henry lavish love on Jane Seymour as the Boleyns were put aside. Anne then fell out over confiscated monasteries with Thomas Cromwell, the man who had got her the crown, and without Cromwell or Henry, Anne was doomed. Henry and Cromwell came up with a plan; charge Anne as adultery with courtiers and incest with her brother, and she could no longer be queen.
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Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who had made the marriage of Anne and Henry could unmake it; Thomas Cromwell had George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Henry Norris (all whom worked for Henry) charged with adultery. With a false charge, false evidence and a corrupt jury, Anne and her fake accomplices were found guilty. The men were all promptly beheaded.

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imagined execution image from Matthäus Merian 1629
Anne’s day came on May 19, and executed by an expert French swordsman (again, the whole event is for another post). She was dumped in an unmarked grave at St Peter ad Vincula chapel until 1876, when workers identified her (and perfectly formed hands), and is now marked there. Anne’s daughter of course went on to be Elizabeth I and reigned England for 40 years, also never gaining a son.  Anne may have wielded power for a time, but never really stood a chance as a woman up against King Henry and Thomas Cromwell. All images of Anne were destroyed, any and all paintings are now recreations of her likeness.
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The way I write Anne in my first Cromwell book is of a quiet woman, intelligent and charming, but very much eclipsed by the situation around her. In the second book she shall become more of a power, more of the strong Anne many portray her as.