Sunday, 29 December 2013

Henry VIII: Do as I say not as I do.

King Francis of France

Letter written in 1533 from King Henry VIII of England to his ambassador in France - Thomas Boleyn - to pass on to King Francis of France. The letter mainly concerned the announcement of King Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, however other issues were discussed.

"requiring Henry's opinion touching the marriage projected by the pope between (Henry, son of King Francis) duke of Orleans, and (Catherine de Medici) niece of pope Clement (VII), to which the said lord Rochford shall state to Francis what he had already said...that considering the low extraction of the said niece of the pope, and the royal blood of the duke of Orleans, he thinks the marriage very unequal, and he is opposed to it, unless some great advantage arise from it...Should Francis think that there can be a counterbalance with respect to the marriage of the duke and the pope's niece, and his holiness should urge the same, then Francis shall be requested to inform the pope that his accepting Henry's excuse without delay is the only means of bringing the said marriage into consideration"

The timing of this letter is curious as it was in this year that King Henry married Anne Boleyn, who was a member of a noble family but was nonetheless a non-royal of "low extraction". Considering that at the same time King Henry was in a very similar situation and taking action which was entirely contrary to what he was advising the French King.
However, King Henry's dislike of this proposed marriage can be understood in terms of religion as at this time England was in opposition to the Church in Rome, and with a marriage connection between the Pope and the ruling house in France, Henry could have been under threat of a Catholic League on the continent.

Painting depicting the marriage of Henry and Catherine, 1550
King Francis indeed ignored the advice of the English king concerning the inequality of the two houses and on the 28th October 1533 Francis' son and heir Henry was married to Catherine de Medici.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The people of Henry Tudor's England

King Henry VII of England
In the fifteenth century, opinion abroad of the island of England was fairly low in that it was unimportant, and perhaps even a barbarian country. It was a small nation of only around three million people, which was tiny in comparison to its neighbours of France and Spain. However, accounts exist from visitors abroad of their opinion of England, and it was often the case that they were pleasantly surprised. These accounts are very useful as they can give us an insight into the society and customs with which Tudor citizens lived.

In 1498 a Venetian wrote a letter which contained his account of the people of England.
He found English people to be;

"extremely polite in their language; which, although it is as well as the Flemish derived from the German, has lost its natural harshness, and is pleasing enough as they pronounce it"

"I have understood from persons acquainted with these countries that the Scotch are much handsomer; and that the English are great lovers of themselves, and of everything belonging to them; they think that there are no other men than themselves, and no other world but England; and whenever they see a handsome foreigner, they say that 'he looks like an Englishman': and that 'it is a great pity that he should not be an Englishman"

Another example of contemporary opinion of Englishmen comes a year later from a visiting scholar.
In 1499 the great philosopher Erasmus visited England, and in a letter to his friend John Fisher he described a custom of Englishmen that;

"Wherever you come, you are received with a kiss by all; when you take your leave, you are dismissed with kisses: you return, kisses are repeated, They come to visit you, kisses again: they leave you, you kiss them all round. Should they meet you anywhere kisses in abundance: in fine, wherever you move, there is nothing but kisses"

This custom of kissing was a French one that had come to England during the era of the Plantagenet kings (1154-1399) and had continued after the ruling dynasty had changed. 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Tudor time translator

John Russell (1485-1555) spoke French, Spanish, Italian and German. He had spent several years abroad studying and learning languages, and returned to England in 1506 upon the death of his father and grandfather.
By contemporaries he was described as;
"had a moving beauty that waited on his whole body, a comportment unaffected, and such a comeliness in his mien, as exacted a liking, if not a love, from all that saw him; the whole set off with a person of a middle stature, neither tall to a formidableness, nor short to a contempt, straight and proportioned, vigorous and active, with pure blood and spirits flowing in his youthful veins"

John Russell, Earl of Bedford, 1555
On the 11th January 1506, King Philip of Castile and his wife Joanna - the elder sister of Catherine of Aragon - were aboard a ship headed for Spain from Flanders which, due to a storm, had to make an unexpected stop at Weymouth. Upon their arrival the royal couple were greeted and entertained by the local Dorset gentry, in particular by the household of Sir Thomas Trenchard at Wolveton Hall; a family which John Russell had familial links with.

Wolveton Hall
It is unlikely that Philip or Joanna spoke any English, nor had among their party any that did as they had not expected to land in England, therefore a translator was needed.
John Russell came forward due to his skill with languages and stepped into the role as translator for King Philip, and then traveled with the Spanish king to London and arrived on the 31st January. Juana traveled to London at a slower pace and arrived a week after her husband on the 10th February, where she was reunited for only a few hours with her younger sister Catalina, whom she had not seen for ten years, and would never see again after this visit. It seemed that the two kings worked to keep the sisters apart, and King Philip publicly snubbed his young sister-in-law during the court celebrations when he refused to dance with her. Philip was trying to maintain control over Juana's inherited lands and used her fragile mental health as his reason for his, therefore to maintain this excuse it was necessary for him to keep her from her family members who might convince her to take an active role in ruling her territories. However, for Henry and Philip the visit was successful as they made several political, economical and dynastic agreements.  Philip and Juana did not leave England until April that year, with Philip staying at the royal court and his wife Juana waiting in Dorset.
The following year Catherine wrote to her sister Juana and mentioned this visit;
"I have to express the very great pleasure it gave me to see you in this kingdom, and the distress which filled my heart, a few hours afterwards, on account of your sudden and hasty departure"

The Spanish couple praised his skills so highly that in 1507 Russell became a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber under King Henry VII, and then under Henry VIII. Russell's political continued to gain momentum throughout his life, and peaked when he was made Lord High Admiral in 1540, which he resigned two years later, and became Lord Privy Seal. It was this fortuitous accident which left the Spanish monarchs washed up on a Dorset coast that led to a successful political career for John Russell who served, and held high offices, under all consecutive Tudor monarchs of England from Henry VII to Queen Mary I.

John Russell, Earl of Bedford, by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
John Russell by Hans Holbein

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Royal mistress blamed for a King's deposition

Cecilia was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa - born the daughter of Henry IV of England and married King Eric (1381-1459) of Denmark, Sweden and Norway - and became the mistress to King Eric, and later his second wife.

King Eric
King Eric had been described by Pope Pius II as having;

 "a beautiful body, reddish yellow hair, a ruddy face and a long narrow neck ... alone, without assistance and without touching the stirrups, he jumped upon a horse, and all women were drawn to him, especially the Empress, in a feeling of longing for love"

Cecilia became King Eric's mistress after the death of his wife Queen Philippa in 1430 and they were married morganatically some time after this. The relationship was unfavourable to the nobility and royal court and was seen as a great scandal; the royal council made official complaints about the relationship to the king and wanted the lady to be removed. Queen Philippa had been greatly popular and she had been a capable and beloved queen, often acting as the regent for the kingdom even when her husband was present, therefore it is possible that much of this dislike stemmed from the nobles having adored the queen and finding the king's behaviour since her death as dishonouring her.
Queen Philippa
In 1436 an event occurred which demonstrates the lengths that the nobility of King Eric's kingdom went to to display their dislike of Cecilia.
At this time King Eric fled his royal court and went to the island of Gothland where they would remain for about ten years, with Cecilia and the crown jewels and any valuables they could carry. One of these valuables was the golden goose weather-cock that sat upon the Goose Tower of Vordingborg Castle; a castle that was owned by a powerful nobleman; Sir Oluf Axelsen Thott. 
One day Sir Oluf was riding with his squires in the area of Vordingborg when they came upon a lady riding in a queen's coach. The squires recognised who she was and got off their horses to bow to her, they explained to Sir Oluf who she was, which he responded to by ordering his men to pull the lady out of the carriage and bring her to him. Sir Oluf grabbed Cecilia and bent her over his knees and smacked her on her bottom three times, possibly with his sword, like a naughty child. Sir Oluf then told her;

"Take that to your lord, and tell him by your bad influence you will some day cause his separation from Denmark." 

A letter was written to the Pope to inform of this event taking place, and his simple response was; 

"Valde amarum est" (It is very bitter)

The words of Sir Oluf became a reality when King Eric was deposed from the kingdoms of Sweden and Denmark in 1439 as well as Norway in 1440. He and Cecilia went to live in Pomerania where they made a living by piracy against the merchant trade in the Baltic, after 1439 there are no further written records of Cecilia.