In 1545 the struggle between conservative and evangelical, between mumpsimus and sumpsimus grew more intense as Catherine Parr’s household shed an evangelical light over the court. And into this situation came a noblewoman from Lincolnshire, Anne Askew.
Download Podcast - 250 Catherine and Anne (Right Click and select Save Link As)
Last time then I introduced you to a few of the main characters of the Henry VIII’s Privy council in 1544. We have the old guard traditionalists – Norfolk, and Wiley Winchester, Stephen Stockfish – aka Stephen Gardiner the Bishop of Winchester. Coalescing around them are a few supporters, who recognise that the conservatives are in the ascendant – Richard Rich, William Paget, Thomas Wriothesley. These men come together to control today’s world, but also tomorrow’s world, the post Henry world – whether to bring down the evangelical changes, or to ensure a more traditional aristocratic rule, or simply for power and survival – or indeed all of the above.
Opposing them as far as they can are Henry’s gentlemen servants in the Privy Chamber, such as Anthony Denny; whispering in the king’s ear to save their evangelical colleagues from the vengeance of the Council. Nor is the Council completely devoid of evangelicals; the Earl of Hertford’s personal stock had risen of late and the long serving John Dudley, the Viscount Lisle, another bureaucrat and military man, had also become one of the king’s favourites, playing dice and gambling with the king. So although exposed and threatened by the recent Prebendaries plot, the ABC Thomas Cranmer was no longer totally alone.
Even more significantly, though less directly, was the arrival of the Queen, Catherine Parr. Ok, so the queen did not sit on the Council – but her influence, like that of Anne Boleyn, was felt everywhere. And Catherine’s evangelical leanings were far clearer and more passionate than Anne’s.
English Kings and Queens were generally much separated, but Catherine and Henry had an extended period of 6 months living in each other’s pockets directly after the wedding. Catherine used some of this period to establish relationships with her step children; Mary was now in her mid 20’s, Elizabeth 10 and Edward VI was a nipper. Err that’s 8 years old. Chapuys crowed that Catherine’s relationship with Mary seemed particularly strong, rather than with Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth, and Catherine’s success in establishing a relationship with Mary, whose religious views were very different from her own was a sign of Catherine’s talents – she was good at influencing, at bringing people together, at establishing bonds, and it was a talent that would not only influence policy, but would save her life. But it seems equally clear that Catherine did indeed work hard at getting on with the stepchildren, though you have to wonder if the stepchildren by this stage were getting a bit confused about who was who. In the history cycle of revisionism and counter revisionism its been suggested that the image of Catherine’s adoring stepchildren and happy household gathered round the Tudor fire like a 1950’s Christmas advert or a washing liquid commercial has been hideously exaggerated, and it’s tricky. Because Tudor society was that most marvellous of things, a gerontocracy, where the old folks were treated with exaggerated respect, and ruled the roost with a firm hand. So when Elizabeth, 10 years old remember, wrote
‘I am not only bound to serve you, but also to revere you with filial love,’
I don’t think you can automatically take it as genuine any more that Edward’s letter where he wrote
‘I received so many benefits from you that my mind can hardly grasp them.’
Edward was 8 years old. These are as likely to be formulaic as much as anything. However, they might be evidence of affection, and there are a couple of wispy straws in the wind that suggest they could be. Catherine did seem to have a personal touch and to have taken an interest, and it seems likely children so young would have responded. At Christmas of 1544 she had matching clothes made for herself, Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, and Prince Edward, all in cloth of silver, which is a nice touch I must suggest to my own kiddie winks next Christmas. She took an interest in their schooling; there’s a frequently quoted example of Elizabeth’s own ability to influence and ingratiate, with a letter from her to Catherine in Italian, fulsome with thanks and praise for her stepmother. Catherine may well have chosen Edward’s tutor. So very least, she made the effort, she did not ignore them, and there’s no evidence other than that they were all 3 duly grateful.
She may also have influenced the new succession; Edward of course was first in line, then heirs if there were any between Catherine and Henry; but then if all else failed, the succession now went to Mary and then Elizabeth. Mary and Elizabeth remained bastardised; but the Succession Act provided for them to become Queen should the worst happen. Some suggest that this was Catherine’s influence with the king at work.
It’s also clear that Catherine and Henry had established trust between them; and so during the war with France between July and September 1544, Catherine was made Regent, as had Catherine of Aragon all those years ago. She managed the government with a 5 man council, she was firm, efficient, decisive, very much in control; her letters also show a slightly different attitude to the first Queen Catherine. She is less bloodthirsty, more eager to promote a sense of English destiny, less hectoring. And it’s worth remembering the difference in their backgrounds – Catherine of Aragorn was born to rule, a proud Spanish princess of one of Europe’s leading dynasties; Catherine Parr was, well, not, she was from the backwoods if the good people of Lincolnshire will forgive me. But this is a person who, despite the lack of that experience and upbringing, knew how to lead effectively, ands with a light touch. I read that she chose as her motto ‘To be useful in all I do’, which is an ,junassuming kind of motto is it not? “My life’s mission is to be handy to have around sort of thing.” Nice.
But it was in matters of religion that Catherine was to have the most influence, and she exercised her influence through a culture she established in her household, and by the influence she could exercise with the king. She would walk on occasion very close to the line, and it would come close to changing that rhyme we use, divorced beheaded survived, divorced beheaded survived – could have been divorced beheaded beheaded instead. So, whether or not you think Catherine came early or late to Protestantism, to Protestantism she certainly came. Catherine had intellectual and literary talents as well as inter personal ones; She’s the first queen to be published, I think it’s true to say, and its not until Victoria that we get another. In May 1545 she published Prayers or Meditations, which was an instant success and went into 5 printings by 1548. More importantly to understand her mind and beliefs was a book only published after Henry’s death – The Lamentation of a Sinner, a description of her search for religious truth, and a clearly protestant piece of work.
Catherine created an atmosphere at court which made it acceptable to hold protestant views – you had to be careful, you could not be too open about it all, the conservative heretic hunters were on the prowl, Henry was on the prowl; but there was an undercurrent of acceptability and even rebellion against traditional practice, though that’s far too strong a word. She transformed her own household into a strongly evangelical one; the head of her household, Anne Herbert, her sister, and people close to her such as the Countess of Hertford, Lady Denny, Lady Hoby, Lady Lane and Lady Tyrwhit were all evangelical. She was close to Catherine Willoughby, the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, who was outspoken in her evangelical views, who was strongly opposed to Gardiner. These women helped protect and advance evangelical views through their patronage, through culture, and through example
Every day in the afternoon for the space of an hour one of her chaplains in her privy chamber made some collation to her and to her ladies and gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber, or others that were disposed to hear.
Her influence would also bear fruit in the longer term. During her regency she brought Elizabeth to court, where Elizabeth would have seen her in a position of authority and power. Elizabeth joined Catherine’s religious debates, and joined in the literary circle Catherine also loved. Catherine had Elizabeth translate Erasmus, and Elizabeth would translate Catherine’s own work. It’s a bit of a leap, but it would seem not entirely fanciful that these things influenced Elizabeth’s feelings about religion, and Elizabeth’s feelings about religion would be significant.
As Catherine’s fervour and influence grew, she also had a hack at Henry VIII to persuade him to follow a more evangelical line. Some of this was directly political; she seems on at least one occasion for example, directly advocated alliance with the protestant German Princes. She also got into the habit of directly discussing nd disputing religious matters with Henry, but this was very probably a mistake. Just to hammer another nail into the coffin of his reputation, Henry seems to have had a, shall we say, unreconstructed attitude about such debates with his wife. After one such debate he would vent to Gardiner:
A good hearing it is when women become such clerks; and a thing much to my comfort to come in mine old days to be taught by my wife
Henry was deploying early modern irony of course, he didn’t really think it was much to his comfort at all, and Wiley Winchester would have pricked up his ears, and may well have stroked his chin thoughtfully and perhaps there was even an evil chuckle. Because there is no firmer evidence that Catherine was indeed influential, that Catherine was inspiring an evangelical come back, that that the conservatives had started to plot to bring her down. What I have learned is that if at the Tudor court if someone wanted to have you executed you should not be disheartened, it was in fact the highest possible compliment. Catherine had just made the grade, could now wear the ‘Worth executed’ badge on her lapel with pride.
Gardiner’s slightly battered looking political antennae would have been excited partly because of a speech Henry gave on Christmas Eve 1545. So, you know I keep saying that, hate it or loathe it, Henry was in his own time generally admired and revered? And you keep thinking come on, seriously? Christmas 1545 was one of the occasions when Henry demonstrated the intensely Tudor talent for self promotion and wowing a crowd. Henry came to parliament in all his glory to speak to the troops. Why, you might ask, had Henry been moved to shift his bulk parliament-wards? Well, one was that parliament had proved unusually toothy about the final part of the reformation dividend, the abolition of the Chantries, those colleges of priests set up to pray for the souls of the departed. Getting the act through parliament had been surprisingly tough. But primarily, Henry was still deeply worried about the discord in his kingdom, the very public and very private debates about religion. This is a tricky one to understand, because the conservatives were still out there heretic hunting, and as we’ll hear Henry on the other hand was considering more doctrinal changes, so you might say well look if you are worried about discord, just stop making changes and stop burning people. But In Henry’s mind he was simply doing his job; his job, as Supreme head of the Church, was to think deeply about practice and doctrine; and there’s no doubt that Henry did think deeply and tried to steer a middle way, to find Aristotle’s Golden Mean. Hs problem was that it seems that some of his subjects, actually rather a lot of his subjects, insisted on having a view of their own rather than doing what they were told. He Henry, was in charge – their job was to believe what he told them to believe.
None of this makes us love Henry anymore, but hey this is 1545 not 2018. So the king turned up in parliament on Christmas Eve 1545 to put matters straight, to bring harmony where there was discord, to bring fraternal love to his people. His people stood in awe in front of him as he spoke. And he spoke well, he spoke with passion, he spoke with authority, he spoke persuasively, and he spoke as though he was speaking to each and everyone there individually. He cried out against the preachers who argued against each other’s opinions, throwing insults against each other. All these were, he said ‘names devised by the devil’. And there was more.
‘how unreverently that most precious jewel, the word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern … 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 ever less reverenced, honoured or served.’
Burn. Sorrowfully, Henry spread the blame equally, accusing neither one side nor the other – no one side was wholly to blame. The trouble was, he explained that
‘Some be too stiff in their old Mumpsimus, other be too busy and curious in their new Sumpsimus.’
Now at this point you of course think the old guy has really lost it. Mumpsimus and Sumsimus, what is he on about, well can reveal to you that what you are looking at here, gentle listeners, is a sort of Tudor literary joke, a tale told by Erasmus at his most waggish, of a priest corrected in his latin when he wrote Mumpsimus rather than the correct sumpsimus. When corrected, the priest grumpily exclaimed
I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus
I am pleased also to announce that the word mumpsimus became then accepted as a word for a misguided stick in the mud who will not change their view in the face of clear evidence of the need for reform. You may be able to think of people like that who you know, in which case I must send you away with a mission to keep the word Mumpsimus alive and relevant to the modern world and say you old mumpsimus you. Or whatever. Anyway, I digress back to the story.
Henry was getting into his stride now, and had that uncomfortable lumpy feeling in your throat like when Elliott took to the skies with ET, or when Jonny Wilkinson popped one over in extra time in 2003. What was needed was leadership – Bishops and clergy must mend their divisions and give example to the rest. And the whole nation must follow the lead of the King: they must all ‘travel with him’.
By now there was no mistaking it – Henry was blubbing, there were tears on his cheeks. Seriously embarrassing you might think, but I am glad to say that the stiff upper lip had yet to be invented in England, we don’t get that until the 19th century, though I am sure you will be amused and most diverted to know that it is a phrase that appears to have been invented in America, where is was first written down in 1815 and took until 1844 to arrive on the shores of blighty. Anyway, Henry was blubbing – which was just fine, because his audience was in floods. Not a dry eye in the house ladies and gentlemen, not a dry eye in the house. It was a bravura performance.
So, going back to Catherine, to Gardiner and to the conservatives. The Conservatives had been through disappointing times recently; since their coup against Cranmer crashed and burned, they’d been unable to expose, forcibly convert or burn any heretical evangelicals. The king had even been considering some ideas from Cranmer about further evangelical changes in practice; despite their domination of Council, things were not looking good. But at the start of 1546, the time was right. Gardiner had just returned from France, and he played the foreign policy card for all it was worth; negotiations were at a delicate point, there must be no rocking the boat with anything that looked like evangelical change. So those new ideas Henry had agreed with Cranmer were hurriedly shelved. Lisle and Hertford, the most powerful evangelical leaning lords on Privy Council were occupied in France and would be until late summer. It was time to go on the offensive, and they would be as offensive as possible to the offending evangelicals.
The tactics would be the same as the last few times we’d been round this particular mulberry bush, the tactic that had worked so well to discredit Cromwell, and only just failed to destroy Cranmer. Root out heretics expose them and get them to either publicly recant or burn them without mercy; but also, to use lesser heretics to bring down the greater, more influential; and we have an evangelical queen here. She was in serious danger of derailing the conservative train, bending the royal earlobes with her religious disputations, and here we have a king who just wants everyone to do as he says and stop arguing about it. Who has gone on record – well at least, gone on record to Gardiner – that he’s finding the lecturing a bit irritating. She would be the ultimate target. The stakes were high; it was increasingly clear that the king could not last much longer, and what came after would be critical. If the Queen and evangelicals could be discredited, if a feeling of panic about discord in the realm could be magnified, Henry might turn finally back to the true religion and put a regency council with Norfolk at its head in his will. The Conservatives could all live happily ever after. Hurrah for the true religion.
But to bring Catherine down, a way was needed into the Queen’s household. The Fab Four – Wriothesley, Rich, Paget, Gardiner – were confident that there was plenty of evidence there to convict the queen, heretical books kept locked away in chests in her wardrobe. But one does not just walk into Mordor or indeed into the Queen’s household. They needed an excuse, evidence, an accusation. Hence those lesser heretics. At the same time, most incredibly remarkably, a plan was hatched to do the unthinkable – engineer a return to the papal bosom. That would be the big one. Not the papal bosom, you understand, which in Pope Paul III’s case looks relatively scrawny, but a reconciliation with said bosom, a return the papal supremacy. Even more remarkably – the king was prepared to listen, and work began to bring a papal envoy to England.
In April 1546 one Dr Edward Crome was arrested and interrogated by the Privy Council and twice forced to recant. Not only was his humiliation secured, but his interrogators got some names. One of those was George Blagge. George was an esquire of the body to the king, and a frequent companion of the king’s in his privy chambers. George was an evangelically minded young man, and the king liked him, he called George his Pig – how George must have laughed. But Wriothsley had contacts in Blagge’s country back home – two local dignitaries with rather dodgy personal histories as a local political bully and a cattle rustler. And so on 9th May, Blagge found himself accused of denying the efficacy of the mass, and within 3 days he’d been in court, cried out ‘I never did, I’ve been framed’, been found guilty of heresy and condemned to burn. It was frighteningly quick. But The privy Chamber acted; they contacted John Russell, Lord Privy Seal, who rushed to the king. Henry was horrified, and a pardon was issued. When the Blagge appeared back at court he could scarcely contain his relief. Henry welcomed him heartily
‘Ah! My Pig!’
‘If your majesty had not been better to me than your bishops were, your pig had been roasted ere this time!’
Others were not so lucky. Latimer was interrogated. His buddy Nicholas Shaxton was interrogated and broken, forced to recant. A man called Rowland Taylor also had to recant. On 11th May, John Lascelles was arrested, the very same who had taken his sister Mary’s concerns about Catherine Howard to Cranmer back in 1541; he was convicted, refused to recant, was condemned to the fires and imprisoned. Roger Clarke, Nicholas Belenian, John Adams, Oliver Richardine, John Hemley. John Hadlam and others whose names do not survive were convicted and condemned to burn, which they all did, many in July. The fires of Smithfield burned brightly. Plus, the conservative even managed to get a law passed against evangelical texts. As he shaved in the morning, Gardiner may have thought of Oklahoma, Oh what a beautiful morning…
By the way, without wanting to break up the narrative, I also learn that cleric were traditionally clean shaven around Europe; hence the traditional picture of Cranmer is of a clean shaven man. However, in Europe evangelical clerics, like Luther had taken to wearing beards as a mark of their protest – and Cranmer would do the same, hence I have tended to show him in pictures on the website in his bearded form. Just a little wrinkle for you. And also I am suddenly worried that I am presenting Gardiner as an insouciant lover of violence. I have no doubt that Gardiner took none of these actions lightly, and saw them as no less than his Christian duty. But the result was without doubt fear, suspicion and death.
But, so far, despite deep satisfaction at the way things were going, no little fishy had yet nibbled at the bait to allow them to get at Queen Catherine, and her bending of the king’s ear continued.
No, let me take you away from all of this to the Glory that is Grimsby. I promise I will make this relevant. Near Glorious Grimsby lived a knight called William Askew, married to Elizabeth Wrottesley – no relation to Thomas btw. William and Elizabeth were the proud parents of 5 – 2 boys and 3 girls. In about 1521, they christened their second girl Anne. There was great excitement when Anne eldest sister Martha was betrothed to be married to one Master Kyme of a village of Friskney also in Lincolnshire and mercifully close to Skegness, but in 1536, disaster struck and Martha died. Said William and Elizabeth to Master Kyme, we have another daughter, her name is Anne, and maybe you would like to marry her instead? And so the arrangement was made. Anne was not happy. But William and Elizabeth appear to have been from the less consensual side of the tracks, and Anne, though she would prove to have a stubborn and determined side to her character, combined with the most remarkable courage, was a dutiful daughter, and so she bowed to the demands of her parents, and she went, and she did her duty, and she and Master Kyme had two children together. But all was not well in their household.
Anne had been relatively well educated, and could certainly read, and so she read, and she read the Bible. And what she read their turned her mind to the teachings of evangelicals. It seems that she was not of the shy and retiring type, because she seems to have shared her views, and talked to her neighbours and her husband. Neither her neighbours nor her husband were happy with her talk; this is Lincolnshire, Lincolnshire then as now is a conservative sort of place, and would of course be at the centre of the pilgrimage of Grace. There were grumbles and mutterings, and open hostility. And when Anne proposed to go to the big smoke, the glittering cosmopolis that was Lincoln, they made their views known, and they made their outrage known to the Bishop and his staff at Lincoln. The Bishop at Lincoln was one John Longland, a fierce conservative and enemy of evangelicals. As Anne herself would write that she was warned.
For my friends told me, if I did come to Lincoln, the priests would assault me and put me to great trouble, as thereof they had made their boast
Anne’s stubborn streak was revealed in all its glory – she would not be denied, and so she took herself off to the Cathedral City, to show that she was not intimidated, she would not be cowed, and to see what substance this great trouble might have. There in the Cathedral she quietly read their bible. Which is fair enough except of course the Act in advancement of Religion in 1543 had laid down that women should only read the bible in private. Anne was, in all probability, goading the establishment, and goading the male establishment to boot. The establishment didn’t fancy it to be honest, and generally speaking whistled nonchalantly, put hands in pockets, did their best to look unconcerned all that sort of thing. Or do the English hanging around tutting thing without actually saying anything. Finally one priest has a bit of a go – Anne later claimed to have been so unimpressed that she couldn’t remember what he said. Just as a little byword here, when the story was done in the following reign an account of the events of Anne’s life would be published; she wrote down everything that happened to her, and two editions were published, one edited by John Bale and one by our very own John Foxe. Bishop Gardiner was furious, demanded they be repressed, claimed they misreported events, and also wrote
For if it be persuaded the understanding of Gods law to be at large in women and children, whereby they may have the rule of that, and then God’s law must be the rule of all, is not hereby the rule of all brought into their hands?
It’s a rather fascinating statement; it’s a reminder of just how men viewed women’s role and capabilities, particularly of course the religious – I don’t accuse Gardiner specifically of being exceptional in any way here, Anne’s own editor John Bale jumps through hoops to take agency way from her, presenting her as simply a weak tool of God’s work; Anne was presented as meek pious, obedient, and to do tis he messed a lot with Anne’s original text. Fortunately, to do him justice, John Foxe was much happier to tell her story fully and from her point of view, and as ever Foxe was largely rigorous in his use of the texts; and so historians have pointed out that Anne that emerges is quite different – subversive of male authority, brave, witty, and intelligence. Also, Gardiner’s quote is not just about a fear of empowering women, it also speaks of a fear of political empowerment. Gardiner’s horror comes down to us through the centuries, and I suspect he used this approach because it would strike a greater, deeper chord in his listeners than a mere objection to glorifying an evangelical. Anyway, there you go.
Anyway, back at home, Master Kyme was equally livid. No doubt he had tried to get Anne to stop talking of her beliefs, stop showing am independent view different to his own. Now he decided he’d had enough and threw her out. Anne responded by demanding a divorce; of her two children, by the way there is no sign, so it may be they died in infancy. Anne had a snowball’s chance in hell of gaining a divorce from the Bishop of Lincoln, and so she took herself to London, to the court of Chancery where she might have a better chance. Because Anne Askew was a well connected noblewoman; her brother Edward was cup-bearer to the king, and her half-brother Christopher had been a gentleman of the privy chamber. Edward had served Archbishop Cranmer; and critically Anne’s sister Jane was married to George St Poll, a lawyer in the service of the duke and duchess of Suffolk, our Catherine Willoughby of dog Gardiner fame, member of the Queen’s household. This connection to the queen’s household might well have seemed like good news to Anne at this point – she might have been less enthusiastic had she known where it would lead.
To be fair and even handed, there is an alterative view to why Anne left her husband and why she went to London. These are the words of Robert Persons, a Catholic recusant born in 1546 and who died in Rome in 1610. She left, wrote Persons,
to gad up and down the country a gospelling and gossiping where she might and ought not. And this for divers years before her imprisonment; but especially she delighted to be in London near the court
I put that out there for your consideration, though it is not clear to what documents or testimonies Persons had access to frame this different narrative.
But Anne attracted attention in London and it was probably March 1545 when she first got into trouble. She was hauled in front of the Bishop of London Edmund Bonner and interrogated. Eventually Bonner went away and wrote a document, a confession of faith and demanded she agree to it. Evangelicals and Lollards over the years had worked out ways to walk the line between submission and denial; you might note that there was no right to remain silent in 1545. Anne was clearly well aware of the law, and use the law to answer as safely as she could without imperilling her immortal soul.
I believe so much therefof as the holy scripture doth agree to
She said, but Bonner would not let her off the hook and he demanded she sign the confession. Anne signed, but insisted on adding her own addenda
I Anne Askew do believe all manner of things contained in the faith of the Catholic church
This sounds innocuous enough, but Bonner was furious. She had distanced herself from the Roman church, an claimed the proper catholic church was of her own, the reformers. But for now, Anne was released as her family and connections fought her cause, and of course as a woman she might not be considered an equal but that meant that at time like this her head would be below the parapet, there is no cloud without its silvery lining as it were. Equally, there is on silvery lining without its cloud, and by June 1545 Anne Askew was arraigned again before a jury for denying the mass; but no witness came forward and so the jury released her.
That might have been the end of the matter. The law of silvery linings appeared to have dictated that as a woman Anne was not to be taken seriously, and her social status also protected her from harm. It’s a rather galling way to avoid being burnt, that nobody will take you seriously, bit there it is. For the best part of a year, Anne remained at large, worshipping as she would.
But unfortunately, someone noticed Anne, and someone noticed that she might very well be the person the conservatives needed, the key to unlock the casket that held Queen Catherine’s heretical writings. They noticed her connections to court, and to the queen’s household. To save her life, she might be able to accuse someone close to the queen, she might even be able to incriminate the Queen herself. In May 1546, Thomas Kyme received a command from the very top, from the Privy Council. Thomas Kyme was to attend the king’s council at Greenwich on 19th June 1546 together with his wife Anne to answer various charges of religious deviancy. Her interrogators would reflect just how important Anne was now considered to be – the chancellor, Thomas Wriothesley; Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester; John Dudley, Viscount Lisle; William Parr, earl of Essex; and William Paget, the king’s principal secretary.