278 The King’s Honour


The return of the King meant demands for the English to enter a war they did not want, and in which none of their interests were really at stake.

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The Duke of Alba had been born in Spain in 1507 into one of the leading noble Castillian families. His service to Charles V was based on an absolute loyalty to authority, and a firm Roman Catholicism. He was a talented and successful commander, and his Imperial service had brought him the had brought him the success to which he had been bred to expect; by 1555 he had become Viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples for Phillip II. But in 1556 his firm belief in the absolute supremacy of the universal Pope and his loyalty to his new master Phillip II were to be brought into conflict. And the outcome would have an impact far away in England.

At the heart of the problem was Pope Paul IV, or Gian Pietro Carafa as we have known him. I have mentioned Paul IV’s fierce nationalism and towering hatred of the Spanish. So the fact that France and Spain had managed to agree a Truce at Vaucelles in February 1556 was not to Paul’s liking. In April 1556, Paul visited his personal vendetta on the Imperial allies in Rome, the Colonna family, declaring them to be rebels and confiscating their estates. As tension grew between Philip in Brussels and Paul in Rome, Paul stripped Philip of his title as King of Naples in July 1556, which could be described on the one hand as unfriendly, and on the other hand as a pretty straightforward a declaration of war. Our old friend Simon Renard, now Imperial Ambassador in France, reported that the Pope was rumoured to have raised an army of 10,000 men. While I am on it, Mary Queen of England was not immune from the Pope’s bile, which is surprising given the good work she was doing for his cause. There is something genuinely unbalanced about Pope Pius IV; since Mary was married to Philip, he refused to conduct any English business, and described Mary as ‘worthy of ecclesiastical censure’. It has to be said that Mary appears to have been unconcerned; committed to Papal supremacy she might have been, but she was also perfectly capable of distinguishing between the office and the quality of its temporary holder.

Back in Naples, conflicted as he was between his loyalties to both secular and ecclesiastical masters, the Duke of Alba convinced himself that this was a justified war of defence, and invaded the Papal states in September 1556, and the only productive use of the Truce of Vaucelles was as toilet paper. Militarily trumped, Paul quickly arranged a truce in Italy, to which, as a good son of the church Alba agreed. But Paul was just messing with him…it was just a trick. The French Duke of Giuse arrived in Italy with an army from France in January 1557 and war was joined again.

Why, I hear you ask do I mention all of this? Well one reason is to mention two names of which you will hear much more; Guize and Alba. The Dukes of Guize were a noble family of the highest royal status, and would become the leader of the Catholic faction in the French Wars of religion. For the moment Francis of Guize is the commander of the French army in Italy; and his sister Mary of Guize is regent of Scotland spookily enough, as wife of the deceased James V who, according to the continual Scottish misfortune, died young. Just to finish this story of remembrance, the heir to the throne of France was Mary QoS, now 14 and betrothed to the Dauphin of France. It’s all connected. Anyway, Guize of France and Alba of Spain, remember well the names.

Second reason is that the resumption of this war between Valois and Hapsburg, which has been dragging on since 1494 and is seriously beginning to get tiresome, meant that Phillip began feeling in need of friends, hopefully friends carrying big sticks. It was not difficult to see what was coming – Philip would be coming to England to demand military support. Philip’s envoy did indeed put the case to the Council in the Queen’s chambers in November. But the Royal Council set their face resolutely against the idea of war, and would agree no more than money and naval support. And for the moment the truce held in the low countries, and so although he was flat broke, Philip held back from pushing any harder, well aware that it was not a vote winner. Then in January 1557 Henry II of France launched a surprise attack at Douai in Flanders, and the need became more pressing.

Mary was very keen to be helpful. She was well aware that under the marriage treaty Philip had committed not to embroil England in a war of aggression; but England was committed to support Philip if he was attacked. It would have been in her rights as monarch to simply declare war and have done; but Mary was a believer in the power of parliament and consensus, so she was reluctant to do that, and instead referred the question once again to the Royal Council. The response was this is not the war you are looking for. English finances were far from healthy, with debt of about £100,000, and there were no vital English interests under threat to override that inconvenient fact. More fundamentally, England was in the grip of a growing economic crisis, which was shortly to turn into what historians rather matter of factly describe as a mortality crisis. But for the moment suffice it to say that grain prices had hit the roof. In fact they’d gone through the thatch.

Mary was not yet prepared to go ballistic with her Council, because this impasse had a golden thread in it – it was becoming increasingly clear that Phillip would have to come back to England in person to help talk the Council round, and for Mary the return of the king was her most desired outcome, the thing that all her entreaties and tactics had failed so far to secure.

On 20th March 1557 then, Phillip arrived in great state at Greenwich. He was greeted with a 32 gun salute, and the court was assembled to meet him. On 23rd March we have one of those processions the Tudors loved. All the guilds of London had been informed in no uncertain terms that they would be pleased about Philip’s return, despite the fact they were in fact, um, not, but they knew which side their royal charter was buttered and so there they all were in their finest robes and Sunday best. The brouhaha was partly for the English, but it was also for the Hapsburgs back home; part of Philip’s resentment was fuelled by the fact that his position was widely considered to be dishonourable by his own courtiers.

That was largely it, though, for Philip’s second visit; this had the feeling of a mission for a purpose rather than a permanent return. He was here to get the support he needed, he was here to bash heads together. Mary was confident that if he came home, all would be well, and assured him by letter that his presence would ‘enable him to obtain what he wants’.

You might ask whether little old England was really worth all the effort, giving the rolling legions of the mighty HRE, and if you were asking that it’s a reasonable if slightly dismissive question to ask. Partly, it is because Philip was proper desperate. It is a point I am sure I will make again, but mighty though were Philip’s old and New world dominions, mighty also were his commitments. The spectre of financial collapse will never leave Philip’s life; at this point in time, Imperial revenues were committed to the money markets for 3 years ahead. The money markets were therefore understandably not massively keen to advance any more.  The interest rate being charged was specifically designed for Philip. Ah, Philip of Spain welcome. A loan? Well since its you sir – that’ll be 54%. A 54% interest rate is not the way to happiness. So any financial contribution England could make was worth it, and honestly he was as much interested in money as he was in men – the Spanish tercio was well established as the finest fighting force in Europe. But the another nugget was Mary’s navy. Quietly in the background the navy was another achievement; nothing dramatic, but just as Northumberland’s government had done, Mary had invested in the Navy, making sure ships were replaced and maintained. With a following wind, the English Navy might well be able to hold the narrow seas, and therefore prevent the French from using the sea to transport men and attack Flemish ports. Philip however needed to take away a full loaf – he needed nothing less than a declaration of war, the full fat support, semi skimmed would not do. The reason was probably not just the practicalities of more fighting men – it was Hapsburg honour. Philip’s position as a consort tore at the pride of his courtiers, and no doubt at him, it was inconceivable that his wife and his subjects would not declare war when he demanded it. His reputation and honour would become the subject of mocking laughter across his domains if it was not so.

Mary was absolutely on her husband’s side in this. So not long after Phillip arrived, on 1st April 1557, the Queen summoned the Royal Council and laid out the arguments in favour of declaring war on France. There were two main planks to her argument. The first was the might of France, ‘which was already menacing the whole world’[1]. The other was because she was honour bound to do so, from proper wifely duty, using examples from the old and new testament to reinforce her point of the obedience she owed her husband, and ‘the power which he had over her as much by divine as by human law’.

The Council asked for leave to consider the request; though quite why Mary was requesting rather than demanding was moot, and of some frustration to Philip. None the less, hopefully they would respond to royal pressure as the royal council was wont to do, and all would be well.

But to Mary’s unconcealed fury, they did not play ball, but came back with the answer that they ‘ought not and could not declare war’.  They would agree financial and naval support to Philip, but wold not do more than this. Being in receipt of the wrong answer, Mary ordered them to go away and come back with the right one. They remained defiant, and there was stalemate.

Just to help matters, on 10th April Pope Paul patiently pushed the potty button once more; and decided now would be the perfect time to have a hack at his old enemy Reginald Pole and friends. He revoked Pole’s legatine status and demanded he return to Rome. He investigated Pole’s friends for suspected Lutheran sympathies, and it seems a fair bet that if Pole was daft enough to actually answer the summons, he would be in the same boat. He wasn’t daft enough, as it happens, but you know, if he had been.

Now this was a bad thing for the Catholic cause for two broad reasons; firstly it undermined the authority of the man leading the re-establishment of Catholic practice in England, which I don’t know, seems like a bad move on the face of it; and coincidentally it removed a powerful voice pleading with Philip that he should not actively prosecute war against the papacy. Paul also nominated a knackered Octogenarian to replace Pole as legate in England, and said knackered Octogenerian very sensibly refused to take the job. Mary simply refused to let the papal messenger into the country, which seems sensible. But Pole was a conscientious and principled man and did not feel he could engage in conversation with the Spanish with things as they were, and so a valuable voice in support of peace was lost.

Meanwhile Mary was not about to give up; in the words of the French Ambassador, she would force ‘not only men but the elements themselves to consent to her will’. Individual Councillors were now summoned to her one by one, and there was much browbeating. Some were threatened with death, others with loss of property and money. And yet the Council divided though it was, would not as a whole budge. It is worth noting by the way, that this is much more of a numbers game than it might be in a later context. I am sorry, I forget whether or not I have mentioned this, but the Royal Council did not operate like a modern cabinet, with a collective responsibility. Each of these Councillors owed a direct responsibility to the monarch, and to the monarch only – the Royal Council was a collection of individual royal advisers. That meant in these situations there was no hiding behind a collective decision – each one of these councillors had to be prepared to face down the wrath of their anointed monarch. And so some of them did.

Philip began to show some signs of giving it up, with the classic sour grapes routine, the disdainful, huh, I never wanted it anyway sort of line. The Count of Feria airily informed the Venetian envoy that the king could do what he liked with the English nobility, because they were so venal, but he’d probably let them off the hook, and just take money and ships because you know, he was nice that way. Venal or not, most of the Councillors were not selling, not this time.

Ironically, it was another protestant rebellion that transformed the situation. Thomas Stafford was a protestant who had taken refuge at the court of the French king Henry II. In January, the English Ambassador, Nicholas Wotton reported back worries that Henry might be considering Stafford for some great enterprise, so the English were aware of his threat; Stafford was a descendant of the Duke of Buckingham, the Due totalled by Henry VIII. Suddenly on 23rd April Stafford appeared on the Yorkshire coast in the north of England and attacked Scarborough castle. Scarborough was not the sizzling centre of culture and political activism that it is now, and it’s castle was run down and poorly manned, so he took it with ease and declared himself protector of the realm, come to rid the country of Mary who had given up her right to rule by dint of bringing the tyranny of strangers.

The good people of Scarborough got not had shown less interest. The response to Stafford’s ringing call to arms was the sound of tumbleweed. Not only that, but handily for Mary the Earl of Westmorland happened to be passing with a force of local levies, and so popped over to Scarborough, and popped Stafford and his 30 followers into chains. By the end of May, all of them had been executed for treason – no sign of Marian mercy here. The whole affair had lasted 5 days.

Well, this was just exactly what Mary and Philip had needed. Obviously, this was a nasty French plot, and a Spanish commander triumphantly declared that ‘the French have spared us the trouble’. The English were now going to war against France. When  the French Ambassador appeared at Henry II’s court to deliver the declaration Henry in turn produced his best ‘not bovvered face’ and declared that this was all Phillip’s doing and since the Herald had come from a mere woman he need listen no longer and left the room with a disdainful laugh. Preparations for war now began.

The next time you go down to the fish market, or the fish counter at your local supermarket, consider the Stafford affair. Because it shares something with the fish counter, namely it’s odour. There is something undeniably fishy about the whole thing. Talk to me, for example, about Scarborough. Now I am something of a fan of Scarborough, which is a lovely place and we have family connections; and last time I was there I had the best possible donner kebab west of the Bosphorus, and many famous people were born there – Alan Ayckborn, the Sitwells, Joseph Rowntree. But as a place to launch a protestant rebellion on the seat of government at London, it’s a little dodgy, and the Staffords had no local connections that would allow them to raise an army, tenants or affinity or any such. So…why did he go there? And then there just happened to be a government army in the vicinity when he landed – now how handy is that? I think that falls into the spooky section of the fish counter if you ask me. And then everyone was executed which is a little   unusual also. Henry II of France furiously denied he had anything to do to it, which of course immediately attracted the Rice-Davies defence, since he would have said that wouldn’t he; but historians have been inclined to accept the argument in this case – England joining the war was very much exactly 180 degrees not the desired outcome for France at this point. I mean really not, why would he have sent Stafford?

Now, I am not one for conspiracy theories by and large, but it is all just a little teensy weensy bit convenient is it not? There have been finger pointers, such as from Prof David Loades, and the finger of Loades has pointed towards Councillor, deeply devious and desperate for royal favour William Paget, as maybe a tricker, a siren whose call pulled Stafford onto the lighthouse of treason and destruction so that Mary and Phillip could have their war.

Well, never mind the why and wherefores, the only firm conviction carried to Phillip’s hesitating heart was that he now had military support.

Philip was not to stay long on this visit, especially now that he had achieved his main objective. He did have another objective which he also tried to convert – namely, the situation with Elizabeth, since in May Renard had written from France that Elizabeth’s name was on the lips of every potential rebel. The Princess Elizabeth was currently living in the doghouse, as far as Mary was concerned, although Hatfield House was a doghouse more luxurious than most pooches got to inhabit. A few months previously, Philip pushed once more the idea of marriage for Elizabeth; although had no desire to see Elizabeth illegitimised, nor did he like the fact that she was such a free agent. The perfect solution was to marry her off to someone reliable, who could maybe keep her under control like, I don’t know, a tarpaulin on an Exocet missile. The tarpaulin selected had been unfolded before, to form the groundsheet of the tent of immortal love. It was Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, a staunch Imperial ally desperate to get his duchy back from the French who had borrowed it from him. Borrowed it permanently and without his permission it might be noted. Philibert was an equally staunch Catholic. For Elizabeth there might have been some advantages, it has to be said; the very same idea had been mooted in 1554 and Elizabeth had fought it off as only Elizabeth could, with both toe, nail and, most importantly, intelligence and wit. But there must have been attractions of getting out from the whole fetid atmosphere of sisterly hatred under which she laboured; and as Philip had made clear, by becoming married she would be clearly identified as Mary’s heir as part of the deal. Oddly, Mary was not keen, and it’s difficult to know why; but it became a bone of quite painful contention between her and Philip. Mary’s view of Elizabeth had got no better, indeed had moved from mildly acidic to positively vitriolic; so much so that people noticed. Michieli the Venetian Ambassador remarked that she was prey to the hatred she bore her sister. She was bewildered by Elizabeth’s evident popularity, and had convinced herself that her hatred of Elizabeth was now a matter of conscience, and Mary’s conscience was an elemental force. Why a matter of conscience? Because she convinced herself that Elizabeth bore a distinct similarity to Mark Smeaton, the hated Anne Boleyn’s famous court musician and alleged lover of course.[2]  So she could surely not become queen. As the argument between husband and wife blossomed, Mary articulated her deepest fear of her feelings for her husband

I shall become jealous and uneasy of you, which will be worse to me than death…for I have already begun to taste [of such] to my great regret.

Either way, it became irrelevant. Because Elizabeth would not wear it. Maybe it would secure the succession for her, but Elizabeth was quite capable of realising that every day that passed without an heir for Mary and Philip, made her position became stronger. Elizabeth would not have the succession from the hands of Philip, and if she was to be married she would choose her own partner. And so she gave the idea a firm whack of her boot and sent it spiralling into the outer reaches of stands. She would wait, wait and see.

By July 1557, Philip was gone, back to the Low Countries and to the war. Meanwhile London was not pleased about this war in support of the Spaniards they roundly detested. Now given that there can be few peoples in the modern world as friendly as the Spanish, it is interesting that the attitude of the Dutch had been the same; they had detected in Philip an insular Spanishness, which they found absent in his cosmopolitan father Charles V; in the Netherlands, the Spaniards also had been regarded as aloof and arrogant, to the point of tyranny. However, the die was cast for war.

When Philip left in July 1557, he took with him an English contingent of as many as 10,000 men, which is handy while hardly decisive. He left an England focussing on mobilising the Navy into the channel, but also needing to keep an eye on the backdoor, Scotland. Scotland of course was in alliance with France, and indeed Mary of Guise was their regent, and so trouble could be anticipated, an opportunity for yet another Scottish raid. However, Scotland’s FB page was marked complicated. In a way, Scotland was presented yet again with a rather nasty dichotomy – to be part of a French world or choose friendship with the Sassenach. You might think that this would be as much of a no brainer as the six nations – anyone except the English, but in fact the idea of being subject to French Hegemony was not attractive. Historian Anna Whitelocke refers to a meeting just after this declaration of war against France between the English Earl of Westmoreland and his Scottish counterpart, the Earl of Cassilis. This was one of the normal meetings held over the metaphorical barbed wire of the borders, to try at least to minimise the violence of the Reivers and settle disputes before they got out of hand. None the less there was a bit of banter going on, which I am ashamed to say Westmorland started

My Lord I think it but folly for us to treat now together, we having broken with France, and ye being French for your lives

Westmoreland was suggesting that the Scots were essentially French subjects now. Cassilis shot back

By the mass, I am no more French than ye are Spaniard.

Hmm, touche, mon brave, touche. Cassilis was of course returning the taunt by referring to the Spaniards, but more interestingly there’s a feeling of some brotherhood in there – we are both subject to much foreign influence, neither of us really like it.

The Scots indeed mobilised for war; and the English Royal Council confidently expected Philip to declare war on Scotland on behalf of Spain; afteral one good turn deserves another, we’ve done our bit, you do yours. And Philip – did no such thing – the Flemings and Scots had trading connections and Philip saw no reason to damage his own interests now that he had the English commitment nestling lightly but firmly in his back pocket. It was yet another raw bone of contention, another example where Spanish interests seemed to be paramount for the king of England.

Anyway, whining aside, the war started brightly for the English. Mary’s navy proved pretty effective at sweeping the French from the channel; and there was a victory over the French army at St Quentin near Calais in which the English played a small and rather late part, but you know, better late than never. The victory would have dire consequences for Pope Paul IV. The defeat at St Quentin forced Henry II to withdraw the Duke of Guise and his army from Italy to come back and defend the home range. This meant the Duke of Alba faced only Papal troops. This time, Alba was not at home to mister tricky truce and entered Rome victorious in September 1557, and Paul was forced to beg for peace.

So, a good start, and by the end of the year reports from Calais indicated confidently that the weather had turned chilly, and the French were in no position to try anything on, so English troops were withdrawn from one of the fortresses of the Calais pale at Guines, and re-inforcements for Calais cancelled. The war was not cheap; the fleet alone was now costing £80,000 a year, and the army was costing also. A loan had been raised which had only produced £100,000 and there was quite a lot of backsliding, so many gentlemen were hauled in front of the council – and there was much beating of brows. Until the brows had been sufficiently beaten to yielded up a bit more. It worked, but did nothing to make an increasingly unpopular regime less unpopular.

So we have foreign influence, a war nobody wanted, a king who seemed to be playing for the other side, disruption to trade, bad harvests, sky high prices and malnutrition. Not the best. But for the ordinary people of England there was far worse; England was seized by an epidemic.

This was the mortality crisis referred to at the start. It appears to have been an influenza type of disease and its impact was devastating. It was almost universal with only a few areas escaping. It could be that between 1556 and 1560 200,000 people died from the disease in a population of just over 3 million. As I have mentioned, England was in the grip of a population increase – well for a few years the engine of growth was slammed rudely and violently into reverse, and in those years it’s calculated that the population actually fell from 3.16m to 2.96 million, with birth rate falling as well as death rate growing[3].

Now none of this was Mary’s fault, just as it had not been Henry VIII’s fault or Edward’s fault. But Mary got the blame as you do, because it seemed reasonably straightforward evidence of divine disfavour. Because you know, 7% of your subjects dropping dead from a mysterious fever wouldn’t appear to exactly qualify as the seal of divine approval.

Of course this was all bad, and Christmas 1557 was a gloomy affair at court, but soon it would be the New Year, and with a bit of luck it would be New Year New You, and things would be happier, the clouds would part. But the marshes of Calais were frozen in the cold. And over the frozen marshes more bad news came crawling.

[1] Quoted in Whitelocke, A, ‘Mary Tudor’ p288

[2] Loades, D Elizabeth p120

[3] Hinde, A ‘England’s Population’ (2003, Hodder), p98

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