In 1546, Gardiner and the religious conservatives moved their sights from Cranmer, to the new darling of the evangelical cause – the Queen. Getting evidence from Anne Askew was the key – and they would stop at nothing to get it.
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Last time then, I irritatingly left things on a cliff edge, with the 25 year old Anne and her estranged husband Thomas Kyme standing before a group of the king’s council. The group included Wriothesley Gardiner, Paget, John Dudley and William Parr. Of this group, two of them, Dudley and Parr, could be accounted sympathetic to the evangelical cause, but Parr was a political cypher, only Dudley would have any clout, and whether he would want to exercise it on behalf of a potentially heretical woman is entirely moot.
As Anne stood in front of her accusers, we can understand something of her attitude from a poem she wrote later, Here’s a bit of it to give you a flavour
Like as the armed knight
Appointed to the field,
With this world will I fight
And Faith shall be my shield.
Faith is that weapon strong
Which will not fail at need.
My foes, therefore, among
Therewith will I proceed.
As it is had in strength
And force of Christes way
It will prevail at length
Though all the devils say nay.
So, reasonably uncompromising then. And she started by making it quite clear to the Council that as far as she was concerned, the man standing next to her Thomas Kyme was no longer anything to do with her, and no longer her husband in her view. And Kyme was duly allowed to go, and so began Anne’s examination, two full days of questions and interrogation, which Anne answered, parried and on occasion flatly refused to answer. She threw her knowledge of the scriptures at the Council’s collective head. Gardiner tried to talk her round; her was her friend, he only wanted to save her soul. Anne firmly and contemptuously pushed this away; these were the kind of weasel words of Judas she spat, and she refused his friendship. The Council got precisely nowhere, neither in persuading her that she was in error, or in eliciting any names. Time and again they pressed her about her connection to the Countess of Hertford, Lady Denny, the Duchess of Suffolk – all women of Catherine Parr’s household. Eventually the Council gave up, threw their hands up, Baby hands up; Anne would not give her their love, which I think is a rather feeble reference by me to some genuinely rubbish pop song of my youth. This time Anne could not be allowed to go free with vague and dodgy assurances. They concluded that this time
‘she was obstinate and heady in reasoning of matters of religion, wherein she showed herself to be of naughty opinion’
And the recorder of the session concluded wearily that
‘seeing no persuasion of good reason could take place, she was sent to Newgate, to remain there to answer to the law.’
In Newgate prison, Anne started writing of her experience, and composing her ballad, which would later be picked up by Bale and Foxe. But her ordeal had only just started of course, and things began to move quickly to their conclusion. 9 days later, Anne was standing at the Guildhall, and was there arraigned for heresy. She had a choice now; she’d done her bit surely, she could now back down and abjure, and indeed this is exactly what the ex Bishop Nicholas Shaxton did, at the very same trial. Shaxton, one of Anne Boleyn’s bishops if you remember, would not become a staunch traditionalist. But Anne was made of sterner stuff. She flatly rejected the existence of any priestly miracle in the eucharist.
“As for that ye call your God, it is a piece of bread. For a more proof thereof… let it but lie in the box three months and it will be mouldy.”
It is a theme of this particular round of heretic hunting as it happens – almost all of the evangelicals were now denying the sacrament of the mass, which was of course much further than Henry would ever go. Cranmer’s absence has been noted; it could well be that in his conscience Cranmer himself had by now reached the same conclusion about the Mass, and could not therefore allow himself to be involved in condemning folks for views he now held himself. So Anne had made her choice – and her choice was death, and death by a particularly grisly road. She would not save herself by implicating anyone else, she would not retract any of her beliefs. She was duly condemned by the court – and she was sent back to prison, to wait the date of her execution.
But Gardiner, Wriothesley, Rich, these men were not finished with Anne, not by a long chalk. Their desperation had only grown, and also their determination to break Anne, to get the information they needed to bring down the Queen and secure England’s future for traditional religion. Anne was taken secretly to the Tower. Gardiner ordered Kingston, the Constable of the Tower to have Anne racked. Extraordinarily, two members of the Privy Council took part in this by hand. Wriothesley and Rich met her there, and again pressed her for her connections at court, and in the presence of Anthony Kingston, they threatened her with the rack. Now this was quite illegal; torture was not allowed for anyone under the legal process without express permission of the king; noblemen were protected and it was unthinkable to torture a woman. No woman had been tortured in the Tower, or not as far as we know. Still Anne would not yield.
Anne’s own account of what happened here is simple and direct, without the complexity of her accounts of her two examinations; and quite possibly because Anne was a religious zealot, her interest in writing about her experience was about important things like humanity’s relationship with God, about the truth of the bible, not about tawdry baubles such as her transitory suffering while in this kingdom, which would be so ephemeral compared to the life everlasting she could look forward to. It was John Bale and Foxe who added details from eyewitnesses or documents – or in Bale’s case, maybe his imagination.
Essentially, when Anne continued to deny Wriothesley and Rich what they wanted, they ordered Kingston to put her to the rack. She as stripped to her shift, and she climbed onto the rack and was tied, hands and feet and the wheel turned to tighten the ropes. Anthony Kingston was clearly horrified, and once again Anne refused to talk. So Wriothesley and Rich demanded she be racked again, and much harder. This was too much for Kingston. He refused to be involved any further, and according to some accounts rushed off to try and get access to the king.
And so the Lord Chancellor of England, Thomas Wriothesley, and the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations Richard Rich, both members of the King’s Council put aside their robes and put their own hands to the wheel. And they racked her. In Anne’s own words:
“Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlemen, to be of my opinion… the Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nearly dead. I fainted… and then they recovered me again.
Still Anne would not tell them what they wanted to know. She would admit that some men had come to give her some money in prison to help her, and that they had said they’d come from Lady Denny and Countess Hertford, but that was all. It wasn’t enough for the Conservatives to build a case. Wriothesley and Rich despaired but still could not accept defeat. Here is Anne again:
After that I sat two long hours arguing with the Lord Chancellor, upon the bare floor… With many flattering words, he tried to persuade me to leave my opinion… I said that I would rather die than break my faith.”
Wriothesley and Rich were beaten. Anne was taken quietly and secretly to a private house to recover from her torture – but the violence visited on her body was too hideous, her joints were dislocated, she could not walk. Rich and Wriothesley had to face the music of the Council, horrified at what had been done – but the kind of music we are talking about here is a good old traditional establishment cover up. Not even in that could they succeed and news got out; a London merchant called Ottiwell Johnson, wrote to his brother that Askew remained
‘in steadfast mind, and yet she hath been racked since her condemnation’
In agony in the secret house, Anne was once more given a chance to recant, and once more refused, and was returned to Newgate, there to write her story. The date for her execution was set as 12th July 1546. She would not die alone – three others, John Lascelles, John Hadlam, and John Hemley were also to be burned. There was a huge crowd, and both Wriothesley and Norfolk were there to see all was done. All three men were tied to stakes with faggots around them as normal, but Anne’s case was different – she was too broken to walk. Pushing through the crowd and the noise came the serjeants, bringing between them a chair on which Anne was carried. She could not stand at the stake to be burned, and so a small chair was set at the bottom of the stake and she was tied by ankles, wrist, chest and neck to the stake where she sat. Then through the crowd came her torturer Thomas Wriothesley, and he cried out that they could still recant and be pardoned. Anne replied for them all that when she replied that she ‘came not hither to deny my Lord and Master!’ and Wriothesley withdrew and with deep irony, handed over to Nicholas Shaxton. It was Nicholas Shaxton who preached, and the evangelicals would never forgive him what they saw as his treachery. They would never forgive him, equally nor would they burn him in the next reign, and Shaxton would survive to Mary’s reign to lead the examination of another protestant and preside over another burning, ‘til he died in his bed in 1556. As he preached, Anne nodded appreciatively, unless he strayed from the scriptures when she would shake her head in disagreement.
There are alternative views on how merciful was Anne’s death. Some accounts say that a small barrel of gunpowder was used to speed things up, and a barrel of gunpowder will do that for you, it does tend to speed things up it must be said; others wrote that the fire was made to go particularly slow in punishment for her intransigence, and that it took an hour to kill her. Whichever it was, all agreed that Anne died with great courage.
Gardiner, Wriothesley, Rich had not given up – this was simply a temporary setback. They were afterall at the height of their rash of burnings, the orthodox message was being vigorously enforced – or at least as orthodox as you got after Henry’s reformation. And there was the hope now that the nightmare of the last dozen years could be turned back – because on 30th July 1546 a papal envoy once more set foot on English soil. And on 3rd August 1546 a papal envoy met with the king. There seemed to be hope; Henry didn’t kick him in the arse, Henry seemed open to the idea of a general council of the church which involved the Pope.
And at some point, Gardiner and Wriothesley sprang their trap on Catherine. It has to be said that we do not know exactly when said trap was sprung; it could have been as far back as October 1545, it could have been as late as November 1546. But let’s talk about it now, and assume that this plot was the reaction to the failure of the Anne Askew approach, rather than Anne’s torture being the fall out from the failure of the attack on Catherine. But you pays your money and all that.
Henry’s irritation at Catherine’s enthusiasm and proselytising had not abated. His irritation seems to have communicated itself to the world in some way, because in February 1546 Chapuys wrote to Charles V
Sire I am confused and apprehensive to have to inform your majesty that there are rumours here of a new Queen, although I do not know why or how true they may be
Gardiner now went to work on Henry, sympathising with him that Catherine was always trying to persuade him of some religious point, that she’d tried to influence foreign policy towards the German Princes which was hardly a woman’s role, that what were women doing talking religion anyway. Dirt was dished, mud was thrown wall-wards. And to Gardiner’s delight when he proposed to do something about it, Henry was open to the idea. OK Stockfish, he said, he had a high voice apparently did Henry – it’s clear there’s something fishy going on here, and one of her ladies has a dog called Gardiner did you know? So what’s the plan? Here it is king, said Wiley Winchester. We’ll arrest your old lady, and her heretical crew in front of everyone; and then we’ll raid her household, and don’t you worry, we’ll find a load of heretical books and that will be that. All I ask is that you leave Catherine Willoughby and her dog to me. She’s mine”. I am busking of course, all we know, or think we know, is that Henry agreed that his wife should indeed be arrested in front of him and everyone. What a snake. In the words of Rowena Ravenclaw, Irritation beyond measure is Man’s greatest treasure, and Henry’s irritation with Catherine was about to bring her down in the most humiliating way.
Thomas Wriothsley was beside himself when he heard, there was all kinds of fist pumping, egg laying and the having of kittens going on. “I’ll have her arrested tomorrow, as agreed with the king, in front of the king. Trust me, Stockfish”. said Wriothesley. “Great!” said Gardiner, “but stop calling me Stockfish”.
Later that day, Henry had a consultation with his doctor. Normally this would have been Dr Butts – are we allowed giggle at that or is it just too puerile? Dr Butts had been his physician for many years, and had been part of the evangelical conspiracy of the privy chamber. That is to say, he’d had evangelical views, and used his privileged access to the king to gain advancement for others of the same persuasion, such as Hugh Latimer and a man who will be very important, John Cheke. But he’d died the previous year, so two physicians, a Dr Wendy and a Dr Owen attended the king that day; both men had quite close connections with the Queen as it happens. So, when Henry vented his spleen as he was doctored, about Catherine, and told them that he was going to get rid of her, they would not have been happy to hear the news.
Now Wriothesley had prepared a bill of articles as the instrument by which Catherine was to be arrested. It was probably Dr Wendy who therefore contrived to have this bill of articles dropped near Catherine’s room – or maybe it was simply carelessness by Wriothesley, but really that would be careless with a capital C. Either way, the bill of accusations against Catherine was brought to her, and she panicked. And look, it was a good time to panic, I panic if I run out of tea bags let alone being threatened with heresy. The message reached the king that the queen was in a terrible state, she had collapsed with shock about something. So the king sent Dr Wendy to examine and give her medical aid.
The next day then, it was Wriothesley who was to deliver the coup de grace against the Queen. He was to bring a detachment of the guards, to the gardens where the king would be walking with Catherine and her ladies. And there he was to read out the charges and arrest Catherine and Ladies Denny, Lane and Holby, and maybe the result would be divorced, beheaded died, divorced beheaded burned. At the allotted time, Wriothesley turned up, no doubt with heart beating with excitement and anticipated pleasure. As he approached, the king signalled him to come to one side, and he sank to his knees in front of his anointed king. What followed shocked Wriotheley and made his heart thump for very different reasons
Knave. Arrant knave. Beast. And, fool!
Henry thundered. In horror Wriothesley asked leave to go, and fled. What had gone wrong?
The story is probably one of Catherine’s skills and the evangelical support structure in the Privy Chamber. Dr Wendy may well have been the one to warn Catherine, and to suggest a solution, the only solution with any legs as far as Henry was concerned – immediate, complete and abject submission. But it had to be done right. And so Catherine gathered her ladies and went to see her husband, pretending all innocence. Not a word of religion passed her lips.
Henry was intrigued. He turned the discussion to religion, expecting maybe to be in receipt of an earful – none was forthcoming, his ears remained empty, until Catherine demurely explained that she had no opinion since
Must I, and will I, refer my judgment in this, and in all other cases, to your majesty’s wisdom as my only anchor Supreme Head and Governor here in earth, next under God
History does not record if Catherine was forced to make recourse to a sick bag at this stage. Henry wasn’t ready to give up so easily though
Not so by St Mary, you are become a doctor Kate to instruct us (as we take it) and not to be instructed or directed by us
At this point I would probably have started weeping and kissing Henry’s feet in desperation, Catherine was cool enough to come up with an answer. Oh that? All that talking about religion? Noooo, nooo no no, that was just me distracting you from the pain in your leg sweetheart.
It was enough.
Is it even so sweetheart? And tended your arguments to no worse end? Then perfect friends we are now again, as ever at any time heretofore.
The chequered flag was waving, Catherine had survived, for the moment at least. I might return you to a bit of historiography I mentioned while ago, about the interpretation of these last years. Is Henry the victim of faction, blown hither and thither by the influence visited on him? Or was he the puppet master, the man who had watched the winds of faction in his court now for well over 30 years, with nothing more to learn about the undignified scrambling below him, with nothing to do except manipulate the ambitious, amoral multitude below him, play the game and show everyone who was really in command. This little incident is open to both interpretations; in fact in this one I favour Henry the game player. Astonishing as it may seem I find it difficult to believe that Henry had the energy or desire to rid himself of Catherine; but I can see him being enough of a snake to put his wife through such torture to make a point to the plotters. I suspect he egged on Wriothsley, I suspect he put Dr Wendy up to the dropping of the articles, I suspect he sent Dr Wendy along to Catherine afterwards to make sure Catherine had the required coaching. I suspect the lesson was as much for Wriothesley and Gardiner as much as for Catherine.
None the less in August 1546 , despite the failure of these two plots now, against Cranmer and Catherine, the conservatives would still have been feeling pretty confident and on top of things given the heresy trials. Norfolk and his son Surry openly speculated about what a regency council would be like with them in command after Henry pegged it, and looked forward to the reestablishment of good old patrician government. All they needed was to keep it going just a little longer. Because it was becoming clear that this was now the end game. Henry was increasingly immobile and reclusive, being wheeled around and using his trams, constantly in pain. He could not last much longer, Edward was but 9 years old, there would be a regency at some point.
For much of what followed, some historians have again seen the work of faction, and the puppet master to be not Henry but another of the players we talked about – William Paget, the king’s secretary. David Starkey in particular sees in his hands a master manipulator who took a decision in 1546 about to which side of his bread he should apply the butter. We noted that William Paget was the ultimate politician – no great passions or causes, just a desire to win, hold power, and deliver efficient government. And in 1546, claims Starkey, Paget decided that Hertford would be a more manageable boss than Norfolk, and certainly Paget did not have the kind of background that would impress Norfolk.
But the first straws in the wind were certainly not of Paget’s making. Firstly, Henry decided that there was no way he was going to give up the thing he’d fought for so hard for the last dozen years. Whatever the doctrinal issues, he would not be giving up his position as Supreme Head of the Church. And so the papal envoy Gurone was sent packing. And you have to think Henry was just messing with Imperial and Papal heads don’t you, until the peace with France was landed? Henry had learned to play the diplomatic game with some brio over the last 30 years. And by August 12th peace with France was duly landed; the Admiral of France visited in a blaze of glory. As the Admiral came in, the Pope went out, Seems straightforward enough. The last time the admiral had visited, it had been at the head of an invasion fleet – so this was a happier occasion.
There was an interesting and unverified incident during the visit though; Henry was very obviously favouring Cranmer. And according to Foxe, Henry told Cranmer that he’d make more doctrinal changes in the evangelical – and Cranmer believed that Henry would be changing the mass into communion. Now that is, well, thermo nuclear. That would be the end of any pretence of orthodoxy – communion specifically rejected transubstantiation, and Luther’s consubstantiation, and saw the miracle as residing in the heart of the communicant. We only have Foxe’s word for it though.
It was at this point that Gardiner chose to make one of his famous political gaffes. In November, Henry demanded that Gardiner swap some of his Winchester manors for some royal ones. This was a standard, if irritating practice – you won’t be surprised to learn that somehow the crown always came off better in the deal. And Gardiner said no. He said what? You have to say that there is one word for Gardiner in this, and one word only for this. That word is dipstick. Henry was incandescent with rage.
Starkey would have us believe that Paget in some way manoeuvred Gardiner into this, which is a bit difficult to see, but what is believable is that Paget mobilised Anthony Denny the Groom of the Stool in the Privy Chamber, to keep Gardiner from getting back in to see the king and make it all OK again. Keeping Gardiner away from the king, just like Anne Boleyn kept Wolsey away from Henry in 1529, was critical. Stockfish he might have been, Silver tongue Gardiner was also. Though even on this point I find Starkey a bit unconvincing – since later on the very same Denny will beg the king to retain Gardiner on his Council as Henry lay dying, of which more later. Anyway, Gardiner immediately realised the level of his dipstickery, grovelled, gave in completely and begged for an interview. The message from the Privy Chamber came back that Henry ‘saw no reason why you should molest us any further’. This was probably the most consequential gaffe Gardiner made, and he made some. Gardiner was out. He was off. He was off the regency council, and Norfolk and the Conservatives would lose the most talented and influential of their Privy Council members.
There was more dramatic to come. I mean, really dramatic. This will make your hair stand on end.
As Henry descended into greater and greater illness, a man called Richard Southwell came forward to the Council. Southwell was a minor but not inconsequential figure at Henry’s court; there’s portrait of him by Holbein, and honestly, if you shook hand with the chap you’d want to count your fingers afterwards. Southwell told the council on 2nd December that
He knew certain things of the Earl of Surrey that touched his fidelity to the king
Ooh, hang on. Surrey, as you may remember, was the arrogant, wild, poetic son of Norfolk. Surrey was an aristocratic supremacist if ever there was one; he might differ with his dad on religion, but he was absolutely clear the regency should be a Howard led body. No one else would measure up. Surrey’s dad had stayed by the king’s side throughout the reign and was a survivor of enormous skill – his weakness was to be his son. If you want to know more of both Norfolk and his turbulent private life, and Surrey and his turbulent private life there is a shedcast available – all you have to do is reach for the wallet and become a member, and you also access a library of over 30 hours of podcasts. Just sayin’.
By 12th December 1546 Surrey was in the tower. Norfolk was also arrested. Poor old Norfolk, who had essentially dropped any possible claim to principles other than loyalty to his king, suffered the same horrors as he had inflicted on Cromwell – stripped of his Treasurer’s staff of office and taken to the tower.
Surrey’s crime seems very minor to the modern ear – the thing they got him on was quartering his arms with the royal arms, those off Edward the Confessor. That was the technicality; the real reason was the obviousness of his planning for power, and how that would project the traditionalist Norfolk into power. Surry had even suggested to his sister that she become the king’s mistress so that she could rule through Henry, though really this sounds like a gag which his sister dealt with in the way that sisters do. Surrey went to trial on 13th January 1547; he made a dramatic and characteristically aggressive defence, was convicted, of course, and was then pulled shouting from the court with words that totally sum up his attitude:
Of what have you found me guilty? Surely you find no law that justifies you! But I know the king wants to get rid of the noble blood around him and employ none but low people.
He was executed on 19th January. His father took a different approach – the tried and test Norfolk approach. He grovelled. He pleaded guilty to treason though it’s not quite clear what treason he was actually responsible for, and wrote a grovelling, and slightly confused letter, and for once I find myself in some sympathy for the man.
I, your most humble subject, prostrate at your feet, do most humbly beseech your highness to be my good and gracious lord. I am sure some great enemy of mine has informed your majesty of some untrue matter against me. Sir, God knows, in all my life I never thought one untrue thought against you, or your succession…
It didn’t help that in the investigation both his estranged wife and the mistress he had estranged her for, both agreed to testify, and didn’t do him any favours. The letters he sent to Henry did him no good. On 27th January 1547 royal assent was given to a bill of attainder against Norfolk, turning it of course into an act, and now he was just waiting for the axe to fall, which it was supposed to do the following day, the 28th January. It seems incredible. Charles V’s gob was equally smacked:
Those two ungracious, ingrate and inhuman non humines, the Duke of Norfolk and his son, the elder of whom I do confess that I did love, for I ever supposed him a true servant to his master. Before God, I am so amazed!
You and me both, Mr Hapsburg, you and me both.
By the end of 1546, Henry was a very poorly pig indeed. He didn’t even have the energy for Christmas really; he sent Catherine away, and actually politically Catherine’s bolt was now shot, and she would play no part in the regency that would follow. In December and January, access to the king was almost non existent; rumours abounded that Henry was about to die, or even that he was already dead. On 8th January the French ambassador noted that
The king has been so ill for the past 15 days that he was reported dead
But then suddenly, he made a recovery and reappeared – on 17th January 1547 he met both French and Imperial Ambassadors. But 10 days later he was once more very ill indeed, and the 17th will stand as his last public appearance. But we have one more matter to discuss before we come to his last words, which I have to tell you are nowhere near as good as the most famous of royal last lines – I speak of course of George V and his last gasp words Bugger Bognor. Immortal, if immoderate words.
So, the theory that William Paget manipulated Hertford and the evangelicals into a position of power is helped by the absolute control of access to the king in the last 2 months of his life; in this crucial period is further evidence, if any is needed, that access to an autocrat is an immense power. Paget, Henry’s secretary, and Denny his closest Privy Chamber member were in a position of great power and influence. The claim has been made that Paget doctored Henry’s last will to make sure that his chosen faction would come out on top.
Henry’s will has some unsatisfactory aspects to it, to put it mildly. The actual production of the will was a bit of a muddle; the work was started on 26th December when Henry called for his will – the wrong one was brought. Incidentally I saw one book accusing Henry of incompetence for leaving it so late. Connected to that, another theory, quite well trodden, was that Henry left it this late because he was wielding the will like a sword of Damocles. You know, a bit like the aged lord of the manor threatening to cut his heirs out of the will if they don’t behave – threatening individuals that they would not be part of the Regency Council in this idiom. It seems a bit unnecessary to me; why hold off signing a will – it’s just as easy to screech ‘I’ll change my will AGAIN you see if I don’t yer nasty little tick’. And the other point is that a will was already in existence; it needed updating is all. Anyway, now that I have defended the big man, the wrong will was brought, which is a little careless, but Henry was on the money enough to recognise that it was the wrong one – so the man knew what he was doing. The will was discussed on 26th with the Council, and then apparently reviewed on 30th December. But the will was never signed – which does not mean it was invalid as has been claimed, it was signed by the dry stamp, a by then fully accepted process by which a hard stamp created an impression in the page, to be then inked in later. But more intriguingly, the stamp was apparently not applied until 27th January, or so the records of the clerk say. So that leaves us open to the conspiracy theorists, and the object of the conspiracists is our William Pagett. The idea is that a will may have been agreed on 30th December 1546, but it wasn’t the one that was stamped on 27th January.
What is the evidence of this? Well we need means motive and opportunity don’t we, Mr Holmes? Means is easy enough; Paget was without doubt the man who wrote the will, and it was after all his job, being the King’s secretary and all. Just to confirm it though, he said to parliament that
‘he was privy to the beginning, proceeding and ending of the same last will’
And in a private conversation he said that ‘he wrote the will himself or first draft thereof’. He was the king’s secretary in control of the process of stamping, he and Anthony Denny have unique access to the king and his private household, he has the means, and actually he has the opportunity. Because there was apparently a whole month between the Council agreeing the terms of the will with Henry and the will being stamped – if you believe it. And finally motive – well we all know what the motive is. Just to restate it, the idea is that Paget and Hertford had stitched up the future, and that they had the evangelically minded privy chamber on their side, specifically Anthony Denny. There’s really no documentary evidence of such a thing, its all interpretation and shards – but then you’d expect that of such a thing, otherwise it wouldn’t be a conspiracy, would it? But there’s the odd suggestion of some evidence. Paget would later write to Hertford
Remember what you promised me in the gallery at Westminster, before the breath was out of the body of the king that dead is. Remember what you promised me immediately after, devising with me concerning the place which you now occupy
I have to say that is quite a suggestive quote. But it could just be a political thing – you said you’d give me that job so give it to me now – it doesn’t necessarily require the changing of a will.
So what is Paget supposed to have done? The idea is that Paget changed the will to ensure Hertford could take power. it could be that he changed the composition of the council or that he added the clause which gave the authority to distribute gifts, intended by the king but never enacted, or that he tweaked the will to allow Hertford after the death of the king to become sole Protector.
It is quite impossible to be sure about this; physically the most suggestive things are about this delay in the date of the stamping and the fact that the last lines are rather squished in. For both there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation however – this was a rushed process, the will created between 26th and 30th December. And the fact that the date of stamping was recorded on 27th doesn’t necessarily mean that was when the stamp actually done – just when the clerk noted the stamped will in his records. It’s a bit inefficient, but no more than that.
The composition of the Council is suggestive – there are 16 members, and the split is significant, though, honestly, it’s a split that’s been debated either way. It used to be felt that it was a balanced group, designed to maintain a balance between conservatives and evangelicals, but more recently it seems agreed that the composition strongly favours evangelicals, and also favours the kind of men Paget and Hertford could hope to control, more of the new men, and there are only two clerics, one of whom was Cranmer. Essentially it does indeed look as though it had handed control to Hertford.
But as far as I am concerned there is a better explanation to all this creeping about, although I have to formally announce to you, as I did with Richard III, that I am poorly adapted to accept conspiracy theories; I am on William of Ockham’s side on the dangers of the multiplication of postulates, even as a teenager I was poorly suited to the multiplication of pustulates. Or was that pustules. I don’t buy the Paget theory, the evidence is wafer thin. Also, I’d like to point out that there is reasonably good evidence that Denny, supposedly the great evangelical champion, argued multiple times with Henry for Gardiner to be included on the regency Council, so firmly in fact that Henry had to beat him off, Denny came back to him more than once. The identification of Privy Chamber = evangelical vs Privy council = conservative and aristocratic is quite helpful in the main, but real life is always more complicated. In Gardiner, Denny recognised a force and intelligence he felt would balance the Council and make it stronger. For me, it all comes back to Henry VIII. I realise that the Henry VIII theory requires us to ascribe intelligence and some level of foresight to Henry, a man we dislike to like, but it seems much simpler to me that Henry had a plan here.
If Henry had a legacy he was proud of and wedded to, above the continuation of his dynasty, it must surely be his church, as he saw it. His doctrine as represented in the king’s book, the dignity of English kings as Supreme Head of the church. As we saw with his papal envoy, this was the rock on which any reconciliation with the Pope foundered. In the end, he came to realise, absolutely correctly and with complete certainty, that his reformation could not be trusted to the likes of Gardiner and Norfolk. These men would take England back to Rome, sure as eggs is eggs. He had to break them. This is why Gardiner was banished, and why Norfolk was to be totalled after a life of service. Only in Cranmer and the reformers lay safety for Henry’s church. It’s the same conclusion we all came to with Henry’s treatment of Anne Boleyn – in the end, Henry was the prime mover. After 30 years plus of court life, I suspect that watching the swirl of court politics and playing God over it all was how Henry got his kicks; I don’t suggest that necessarily means he had a master plan, in fact I doubt it, and he way well have been genuinely influenced by the politics of faction – but as we saw with the Prebendaries plot, Henry knew what was going on, and how to intervene when he needed a result.
So look, we need to let Henry die, and we can talk about the provisions of the will next time. On 27th January Norfolk’s Act of Attainder was signed by commission, Wriothesley announcing that the king was too poorly to attend in person. Behind the closed doors and the magnificent tapestries of Henry’s private chambers it was clear that death was stalking the corridors, seeking the king, with no Bill and Ted to give it a final wedgie. There was a final problem, of the king’s making really – no one dared tell him. Because if you said, hey king, you are going to die, you were by definition envisioning the death of the king and that was treason. It was the faithful Groom of the Stool Denny who took the risk and did the decent thing. It was he who had the humanity to tell the king he must prepare to meet his maker, and account for himself. Henry began to think and talk about his life, but eventually said
‘yet is the mercy of Christ able to pardon me all my sins, though they were greater than they be’.
Deny asked if he would like any ministrations, and Henry asked for one of his few close servants that he’d genuinely seemed to love and protect, Thomas Cranmer. And so we come to the last words. Would they be great words of wisdom, advice to later generations, an insight into the principles that guided the great king? Sadly not.
‘I will first take a little sleep and then, as I feel myself, I will advise upon the matter’.
When Cranmer managed to get to the room, Henry had lost the power of speech. So, Cranmer simply told the king to give him some sign that he trusted in God; whereupon Henry, Foxe tells us,
‘holding him with his hand, did wring his hand in his as hard as he could’.
In the end then, a further form of traditional worship had gone by the wayside – there were no last rites, no extreme unction, just an evangelical statement of faith in that final grip. Shortly afterwards, in the early hours of Friday, 28 January 1547, Henry took leave of his friend at his side and of the world and the king was dead.