The Incident at Grafton

CavendishI love Cavendish’s story about the incident at Grafton. This is where Anne, queen of her faction, is supposed to have delivered the coup which brought Wolsey Down. I love it because it gives a really direct insight and image of the day to day business at the king’s court, about the importance of gaining the king’s ear, and a simple practical example of how factions might work in practice.  Whether it actually happened or not is moot!

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Thomas Wolsey’s gentleman usher, George Cavendish, is the main source of the story that it was Anne Boleyn and her hangers-on that brought Wolsey down. According to Cavendish, Anne had hated Wolsey from the moment he thwarted her plans to marry Henry Percy.

By 1529, Wolsey’s career was finally on the rocks. His attempts to bring the king’s divorce to a successful conclusion had failed, the king had been humiliated by Catherine at the legatine court in front of Cardinal Campeggio. In the summer, a treaty was negotiated with France against Wolsey’s advice, and Rochford [Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father], Norfolk, and Suffolk were high in the King’s favour.

Legatine court

 

Wolsey’s only chance of survival was to get in front of the king and work the magic that had kept him in power for 15 years. According to Cavendish, his very last chance came om 19th September 1529, at the hunting lodge at Grafton Regis. Grafton has been the former home of the lovely Elizabeth Woodville. In 1526, Henry had done one of those friendly land swaps to get his hand on it, giving the Marquis of Dorset some land around Loughborough in exchange. Compulsory purchase I think you call it. Henry had made into a royal palace, with building work going on right up to his death, campeggioincluding stealing stones and slates from nearby religious houses. From 1527, it was one of his favourite haunts during his summer progress, typically arriving late in August and leaving in October, and spending his time hunting in two local parks. After Henry’s death it became of much less interest; Elizabeth went their only 3 times, and the current manor house there has basically nothing left from the 16th century.

Anyway, Wolsey’s enemies at court were convinced he was a dead man walking, and laid bets that the king would refuse to see him at all.

And it didn’t start well; Wolsey didn’t have an invitation, and so had to hang on to the coattails of Cardinal Campeggio, the Pope’s emissary come to take his leave of the king. When he arrived, to his astonishment, there was no accommodation set aside for Wolsey! What!!! Nothing set aside for the man who had been the arbiter of power for 15 years? This was an intentional, violent slap in the face. But Wolsey still had friends – Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool, gave him his own rooms. Having the Groom of the Stool as a friend might not be the same as the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, or the king’s highly political mistress – but it also got him into the king’s presence the following day.

So picture the scene; Henry’s courtiers lined up in the presence chamber before the king arrived Smirking looking forward to Wolsey’s humiliation; including the likes of the snake Stephen Gardiner, who had already jumped ship from the household of his former protector Wolsey.

“and they together went into the said chamber of presence, where the lords of the council stood in a row in order along the chamber. My lord putting off his cap to every of them most gently, and so did they no less to him: at which time the chamber was so furnished with noblemen, gentlemen, and other worthy persons, that only expected the meeting, and the countenance of the king and him, and what entertainment the king made him.”

 

Wolseys disgrace

When the king came into the chamber, the courtiers waited expectantly for their fun. But to their horror:

“Then immediately after came the king into the chamber and standing there under the cloth of estate my lord kneeled down before him, who took my lord by the hand, and so he did the other cardinal. Then he took my lord up by both arms and caused him to stand up, whom the king, with as amiable a cheer as ever he did, called him aside, and led him by the hand to a great window, where he talked with him, and caused him to be covered.

Then, to behold the countenance of those that had made their wagers to the contrary, it would have made you to smile; and thus were they all deceived, as well worthy for their presumption. The king was in long and earnest communication with him”

Wolsey was working his magic; the Boleyns, Norfolk, Suffolk – looked as though their plans were to be thwarted, Wolsey would survive. Something had to be done. Supper at this point intervened:

“and so departed the king, and dined that same day with Mrs. Anne Boleyn, in her chamber, who kept there an estate more like a queen than a simple maid. Then was a table set up in the chamber of presence for my lord, and other lords of the council, where they all dined together; and sitting thus at dinner communing of divers matters”

I like that image; the servants came in, set up the trestle tables and they all had a picnic. Anyway, at supper with the king, Anne Boleyn tried to stick the knife in, with a bit of good old fashioned trash talk.

“Sir,” quoth she, “is it not a marvellous thing to consider what debt and danger the cardinal hath brought you in with all your subjects ?”

“How so, sweetheart?” quoth the king,Anne_boleyn

“Forsooth,” quoth she, “there is not a man within all your realm, worth five pounds, but he hath indebted you unto him;” (meaning by a loan that the king had but late of his subjects)

” Well, well,” quoth the king, “as for that there is in him no blame; for I know that matter better than you, or any other.”

“Nay, Sir,” quoth she, “besides all that, what things hath he wrought within this realm to your great slander and dishonour? There is never a nobleman within this realm that if he had done but half so much as he hath done, but he were well worthy to lose his head. If my Lord of Norfolk, my Lord of Suffolk, my lord my father, or any other noble person within your realm had done much less than he, but they should have lost their heads or this.”

” Why, then I perceive,” quoth the king, “ye are not the cardinal’s friend?”

“Forsooth, Sir,” then quoth she, “I have no cause, nor any other that loveth your grace, no more have your grace, if ye consider well his doings.”

But the direct approach did not work, oh dear no, not against the king’s love of his Cardinal.

“the dinner thus ended, the king rose up and went incontinent into the chamber of presence, where as my lord, and other of the lords were attending his coming, he called my lord into the great window, and talked with him there a while very secretly. And at the last, the king took my lord by the hand and led him into his privy chamber, sitting there in consultation with him all alone without any other of the lords of the council, until it was night”.

“ the king commanded him to resort again early in the morning to the intent they might continue their talk which they had then began and not concluded”

Team Anne was in despair.

“…the which blanked his enemies very sore, and made them to stir the coals; being in doubt what this matter would grow unto, having now none other refuge to trust to but Mistress Anne, in whom was all their whole and firm trust and affiance, without whom they doubted all their enterprise but frustrate and void.”

Something had to be done. And it was Anne that would do it later in the private chambers with a bit of pillow talk. Not the trash-talk this time; not the direct approach. But by appealing to the king’s animal instinct. And no, I’m not thinking what you are thinking.

This time, Cavendish and found Wolsey his own lodgings. The snake in the grass Gardiner came to see him to pump him for information. Cavendish takes up the tale:

“The next morning my lord rose early and rode straight to the court; at whose coming the king was ready to ride, willing my lord to resort to the council with the lords in his absence, and said he could not tarry with him, commanding him to return with Cardinal Campeggio, who had taken his leave of the king. Whereupon my lord was constrained to take his leave also of the king, with whom the king departed amiably in the sight of all men.”

Disaster. Victory had been snatched from the Cardinal’s jowels of victory, ample and flabby as they were. Grow a beard is my advice covers up the double chins. So I don’t know what you were thinking, but when I said animal instincts, I was thinking of Henry’s childlike nature, his ability to be distracted by a bauble and his love of the hunt.

“The king’s sudden departing in the morning was by the special labour of Mistress Anne, who rode with him, only to lead him about, because he should not return until the cardinals were gone, the which departed after dinner, returning again towards the Moor. The king rode that morning to view a ground for a new park, which is called at this day Hart-well Park, where Mistress Anne had made provision for the king’s dinner, fearing his return before the cardinals were gone.”

Henry Hunting

And so according to Cavendish, it was Anne Boleyn that worked the magic that finally brought down the great Cardinal; Wolsey would never see the king again.

But did it really happen this way? Eric Ives in ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’ concludes that it feels absolutely right psychologically; but concludes it’s a work of fiction. He points out that a servant of Wolsey’s, Thomas Alward, wrote 5 days after the event, and shows nothing strange about Wolsey’s reception or activity there – Cavendish wrote almost 30 years later in 1558. As far as the Councillors and their attitude to Wolsey, Alward noted:

‘As much observance and humility to my lord’s grace as I ever saw them do…what they bear in their hearts I know not’.

David Starkey on the other hand is inclined to believe that it did indeed happen as Cavendish related. In fact, Starkey the Narky is convinced in general by the Cavendish view of Anne and her vendetta. If you’ll just allow me a brief digression; the nark of the Stark is illustrated by this little quote from him:

Cavendish’s account has been dismissed by the fashionable band of revisionist historians who are blessed with the happy confidence that they understand the past better than those who were alive at the time.

Ha! Ouch! And indeed let’s just lay off all those historians  departments then! I do love Starkey he is a hoot as well as of course, a brilliant historian.

Anyway, whether or not the affair at Grafton happened this was the end of Wolsey’s career. By 9th October he found his court deserted, and a week later he was dismissed as Chancellor. As to whether his fall is to be credited to Anne, or to her father, or to Norfolk and Suffolk is for you to decide.

 

The incident at Grafton: The full text from The Life of Cardinal Wolsey by George Cavendish

It was so that the Cardinal Campeggio made suit to be discharged, that he might return again to Rome. And it chanced that the secretary [ Stephen Gardiner], who was the king’s ambassador to the pope, was returned home from Rome; whereupon it was determined that the Cardinal Campeggio should resort to the king at Grafton in Northamptonshire, and that my Lord Cardinal should accompany him thither, where Campeggio should take his leave of the king.

And so they took their journey thitherward from the Moor, and came to Grafton upon the Sunday in the morning before in whose coming there rose in the court divers opinions that the king would not speak with my Lord Cardinal; and thereupon were laid many great wagers.

These two prelates being come to the gates of the court, where they alighted from their horses, supposing that they should have been received by the head officers of the house as they were wont to be; yet for as much as Cardinal Campeggio was but a stranger in effect, the said officers received them, and conveyed him to his lodging within the court, which was prepared for him only.

And after my lord [Thomas Wolsey] had brought him thus to his lodging, he left him there and departed, supposing to have gone directly likewise to his chamber, as he was accustomed to do. And by the way as he was going, it was told him that he had no lodging appointed for him in the court. And being therewith astonished. Sir Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool [to] the king, came unto him, (but whether it was by the king’s commandment or no I know not), and most humbly offered him his chamber for the time, until another might somewhere be provided for him:

“For, Sir, I assure you,” quoth he, “there is very little room in this house, scantly sufficient for the king; therefore I beseech your grace to accept mine for the season.”

Whom my lord thanked for his gentle offer, and went straight to his chamber, where as my lord shifted his riding apparel, and being thus in his chamber, divers noble persons and gentlemen, being his loving friends, came to visit him and to welcome him to the court, by whom my lord was advertised of all things touching the king’s displeasure towards him; which did him no small pleasure; and caused him to be the more readily provided of sufficient excuses for his defence.

Then was my lord advertised by Master Norris, that he should prepare himself to give attendance in the chamber of presence against the king’s coming thither, who was disposed there to talk with him, and with the other cardinal, who came into my lord’s chamber, and they together went into the said chamber of presence, where the lords of the council stood in a row in order along the chamber. My lord putting off his cap to every of them most gently, and so did they no less to him: at which time the chamber was so furnished with noblemen, gentlemen, and other worthy persons, that only expected the meeting, and the countenance of the king and him, and what entertainment the king made him.

Then immediately after came the king into the chamber and standing there under the cloth of estate my lord kneeled down before him, who took my lord by the hand, and so he did the other cardinal. Then he took my lord up by both arms and caused him to stand up, whom the king, with as amiable a cheer as ever he did, called him aside, and led him by the hand to a great window, where he talked with him, and caused him to be covered.

Then, to behold the countenance of those that had made their wagers to the contrary, it would have made you to smile; and thus were they all deceived, as well worthy for their presumption. The king was in long and earnest communication with him, in so much as I [George Cavendish] heard the king say:

“How can that be: is not this your own hand?”

and plucked out from his bosom a letter or writing, and showed him the same; and as I perceived that it was answered so by my lord that the king had no more to say in that matter; but said to him:

“My lord, go to your dinner, and all my lords here will keep you company; and after dinner I will resort to you again, and then we will commune further with you in this matter”;

and so departed the king, and dined that same day with Mrs. Anne Boleyn, in her chamber, who kept there an estate more like a queen than a simple maid. Then was a table set up in the chamber of presence for my lord, and other lords of the council, where they all dined together; and sitting thus at dinner communing of divers matters. Quoth my lord,

“It were well done if the king would send his chaplains and bishops to their cures and benefices.”

“Yea marry,” quoth my Lord of Norfolk, ” and so it were for you too.”

“I could be contented therewith, very well,” quoth my lord, “if it were the king’s pleasure to grant me license, with his favour, to go to my benefice of Winchester.”

” Nay,” quoth my Lord of Norfolk, ” to your benefice of York, where consisteth your greatest honour and charge.”

“Even as it shall please the king,” quoth my lord, and so fell into other communications.

For the lords were very loth to have him planted so near the king as to be at Winchester. Immediately after dinner they fell in secret talk until the waiters had dined.

And as I heard it reported by them that waited upon the king at dinner, that Mistress Anne Boleyn was much offended with the king. As far as she durst that he so gently entertained my lord sayings as she sat with the king-at dinner, in communication of him,

“Sir,” quoth she, “is it not a marvellous thing to consider what debt and danger the cardinal hath brought you in with all your subjects ?”

“How so, sweetheart?” quoth the king,

“Forsooth,” quoth she, “there is not a man within all your realm, worth five pounds, but he hath indebted you unto him;” (meaning by a loan that the king had but late of his subjects)

” Well, well,” quoth the king, “as for that there is in him no blame; for I know that matter better than you, or any other.”

“Nay, Sir,” quoth she, “besides all that, what things hath he wrought within this realm to your great slander and dishonour? There is never a nobleman within this realm that if he had done but half so much as he hath done, but he were well worthy to lose his head. If my Lord of Norfolk, my Lord of Suffolk, my lord my father, or any other noble person within your realm had done much less than he, but they should have lost their heads or this.”

” Why, then I perceive,” quoth the king, “ye are not the cardinal’s friend?”

“Forsooth, Sir,” then quoth she, “I have no cause, nor any other that loveth your grace, no more have your grace, if ye consider well his doings.”

At this time the waiters had taken up the table, and so they ended their communication. Now ye may perceive the old malice beginning to break out, and newly to kindle the brand that after proved to a great fire, which was as much procured by his secret enemies, [of whom] I touched something before, as of herself.

After all this communication, the dinner thus ended, the king rose up and went incontinent into the chamber of presence, where as my lord, and other of the lords were attending his coming, he called my lord into the great window, and talked with him there a while very secretly. And at the last, the king took my lord by the hand and led him into his privy chamber, sitting there in consultation with him all alone without any other of the lords of the council, until it was night; the which blanked his enemies very sore, and made them to stir the coals; being in doubt what this matter would grow unto, having now none other refuge to trust to but Mistress Anne, in whom was all their whole and firm trust and affiance, without whom they doubted all their enterprise but frustrate and void.

Now was I fain, being warned that my lord had no lodging in the court, to ride into the country to provide for my lord a lodging; so that I provided a lodging for him at a house of Master Empson’s, called Euston, three miles from Grafton, whither my lord came by torch lights it was so late or the king and he departed. At whose departing the king commanded him to resort again early in the morning to the intent they might continue their talk which they had then began and not concluded.

After their departing my lord came to. the said house at Euston to his lodging, where he had to supper with him divers of his friends of the court; and sitting at supper, in came to him Doctor Stephens, the secretary, late ambassador unto Rome; but to what intent he came I know not; howbeit my lord took it that he came to dissemble a certain obedience and love towards him, or else to espy his behaviour and to hear his communication at supper. Not withstanding my lord bade him welcome, and commanded him to sit down at the table to supper; with whom my lord had this communication under this manner.

“Master Secretary” quoth my lord, “ye be welcome home out of Italy; when came ye from Rome ?”

“Forsooth,” quoth he, ” I came home almost a month ago.”

” And where,” quoth my lord, ” have you been ever since?”

“Forsooth,” quoth he, “following the court this progress.”

” Then have ye hunted, and had good game and pastime,” quoth my lord.

“Forsooth, sir,” quoth he, “and so I have, I thank the king’s majesty.”

“What good greyhounds have ye?” quoth my lord ?

“I have some, sir,” quoth he.

And thus in hunting, and like disports, passed they all their communication at supper; and after supper my lord and he talked secretly together, till it was midnight or they departed.

The next morning my lord rose early and rode straight to the court; at whose coming the king was ready to ride, willing my lord to resort to the council with the lords in his absence, and said he could not tarry with him, commanding him to return with Cardinal Campeggio, who had taken his leave of the king. Whereupon my lord was constrained to take his leave also of the king, with whom the king departed amiably in the sight of all men. The king’s sudden departing in the morning was by the special labour of Mistress Anne, who rode with him, only to lead him about, because he should not return until the cardinals were gone, the which departed after dinner, returning again towards the Moor. The king rode that morning to view a ground for a new park, which is called at this day Hart-well Park, where Mistress Anne had made provision for the king’s dinner, fearing his return before the cardinals were gone.

Then rode my lord and the other cardinal after dinner on their way homeward, and so came to the monastery of St. Alban’s, and there lay one whole day; and the next day they rode to the Moor; and from thence the Cardinal Campeggio took his journey towards Rome, with the king’s reward; what it was I am uncertain. Nevertheless, after his departure, the king was informed that he [Campeggio] carried with, him great treasures of my lord’s, (conveyed in great tuns) notable sums of gold and silver to Rome, whither they surmised my lord [Wolsey] would secretly convey himself out of this realm. In so much that a post was sent speedily after the cardinal to search him; whom they overtook at Calais, where he was stayed until search was made; there was not so much money found as he received of the king’s reward, and so he was dismissed and went his way.

After Cardinal Campeggio was thus departed and gone, Michaelmas Term drew near, against the which my lord returned unto his house at Westminster; and when the Term began he went to the hall in such like sort and gesture as he was wont most commonly to do, and sat in the Chancery, being Chancellor. After which day he never sat there more.

The next day he tarried at home, expecting the coming of the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, [who] came not that day; but the next day they came thither unto him; to whom they declared how the king’s pleasure was that he should surrender and deliver up the great seal into their hands, and to depart simply unto Asher,  a house situate nigh Hampton Court, belonging to the Bishopric of Winchester. My lord understanding their message, demanded of them what commission they had to give him any such commandment?

Who answered him again, that they were sufficient commissioners in that behalf, having the king’s commandment by his mouth so to do.

“Yet,” quoth he, ”that is not sufficient for me, without farther commandment of the king’s pleasure; for the great seal of England was delivered me by the king’s own person, to enjoy during my life, with the ministration of the office and high room of chancellorship of England: for my surety whereof, I have the king’s letters patent to show.”

Which matter was greatly debated between the dukes and him with many stout words between them; whose words and checks he took in patience for the time: in so much that the dukes were fain to depart again without their purpose at that present ; and returned again unto Windsor to the king: and what report they made I cannot tell; howbeit, the next day they came again from the king, bringing with them the king’s letters; After the receipt and reading of the same by my lord, which was done with much reverence, he delivered unto them the great seal, contented to obey the king’s high commandment; and seeing that the king’s pleasure was to take his house, with the contents, was well pleased simply to depart to Asher; taking nothing but only some provision for his house.

 

George Cavendish ,  Samuel Weller Singer. The Life of Cardinal Wolsey and Metrical Visions from the Original Autograph … . C. Whittingham.

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