Thomas More was a young lawyer at the time of the Queen’s death. He wrote a beautiful eulogy for her titled “A Rueful Lamentation on the Death of Queen Elizabeth” which commemorates Elizabeth for her union with Henry, her offspring, her piety, and most of all her great lineage:
“Oh ye that put your trust and confidence
in worldly joy and frail prosperity,
That so live here as ye should never hence,
Remember death and look here on me.
Example I think there may no better be.
Yourself worth well that in this realm was I,
Your Queen but late, and lo, now here I lie.
Was I not born of old worthy lineage?
Was not my mother Queen, my father King?
Was I not a King’s fierce companion in marriage?
Had I not plenty of every pleasant thing?
Merciful God, this is a strange reckoning:
Riches, honour, wealth, and ancestry
hath me forsaken, and lo, now here I lie.
If worship worth, honour, renown
might have kept me, I had not gone;
If wit, intelligence might have me
saved, I needed not fear;
If money might have hold, I lacked none;
But oh, good God, what veiled all this gear?
When Death is come,
Thy mighty messenger, Obey we must
there is no remedy;
Me hath he summoned, and lo, now here I lie.
Yet was I late promised otherwise,
This year to life in wealth and delice.
Lo! Whereto cometh thy blandishing promise
Of false astrology and divination,
Of God’s secrets, making thyself so wise?
How true is for this year thy prophecy?
The year yet last, and lo, now here I lie.
O, brittle wealth, aye full of bitterness,
Thy single pleasure doubled is with pain.
Account my sorrow first, and my distress
In sundry wise, and reckon there again
The joy that I have had, and I dare say,
For all my honour, endured there have I
More woe than wealth, and lo, now here I lie.
Where are our castles now, where are our towers?
Goodly Richmond, soon art thou gone from me;
At Westminster, that costly work of yours,
Mine own dear lord, now shall I never see.
Almighty God vouchsafe to grant that these
For you and your children may well edify.
My palace built is, and lo now here I lie.
Adieu, mine own spouse, my worthy lord!
The faithful love, that did us both combine
In marriage peaceable concord,
Into your hands here I do clear resign,
To be bestowed on your children and mine;
Erst were ye father, now must ye supply
The mother’s part also, for here I lie.
Farewell my daughter, Lady Margaret,
God wot full of it grieved hath my mind
That ye should go where we might seldom meet;
Now I am gone, and have left you behind.
O mortal folk, but we be very blind:
What we at least fear full oft it is most nigh
From you depart I first, for lo, now here I lie.
Farewell, Madam, my lord’s worthy mother;
Comfort your son, and be of good cheer!
Take all at worth, for it will be no other.
Farwell my daughter Katherine, late the companion
Unto Prince Arthur, late my child so dear.
It booteth not for me to wail and cry;
Pray for my soul, for lo now here I lie.
Adieu Lord Henry, Loving Son, Adieu!
Our Lord increase your honour and estate!
Adieu my daughter Mary, bright and hue,
God make you virtuous, wise, and fortunate.
Adieu, sweetheart, my little daughter Kate!
Thou shalt, sweet babe, such is thy destiny,
Thy mother never know, for lo, now here I lie.
Lady Cecily, Lady Anne, and Lady Katherine,
Farewell, my well-beloved sisters three.
O Lady Bridget, other sister mine,
Lo, here the end of worldly vanity!
Now are you well who earthly folly flee
And heavenly things do praise and magnify.
Farewell and pray for me, for lo, now here I lie.
Adieu my lords, adieu my ladies all,
Adieu my faithful servants every one,
Adieu my commons, whom I never shall see in this world:
wherefore to Thee alone,
Immortal God, verily Three in One,
I me commend thy infinity mercy show to thy servant,
for lo, now here I lie.”
7 February 1478: Thomas More was born on this day to Sir John More who was a successful judge and lawyer, and Agnes Grainger. Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and also became a successful novelist and renowned intellectual.
The portrait below is a recreation of the original by Hans Holbein which is lost to us now. This shows Thomas and his family, including his adoptive daughter, Margaret Giggs who, together with his eldest, he showed special favor. More was described as a caring father and deeply religious. He schooled all of his daughters in subjects that were reserved for boys, and never touched them with so much -according to one contemporary- “as a feather”.
He became Lord Chancellor in 1529 but resigned two years later. He was then arrested in 1534 for refusing to recognize the King as Head of the Church and was executed in July of the following year.
Among his many works are The Twelve Properties of a Lover, a biography of Richard III, and his most famous work, Utopia.
In fiction as in history More continues to be a polarizing figure but he doesn’t need to be. Is it possible that we see him and his contemporaries as they truly were? -As men of their times, subject to their era’s prejudices instead of being exempt from them? And more importantly, recognize (in More’s case) his attributes as well?
Sir Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd
On This Day in Tudor History and Anne Boleyn Files
The way Amy Licence writes the story of the wives and the mistresses is so unique and beautiful and this is a must-read for everyone that hasn’t read about the wives yet. Amy starts with setting the stage by explaining about the different beliefs regarding sex, conception, and the many methods …used in each. Religion also played an important part in this period, so a lot of the book focuses on the religious aspect from Catholicism to the different sects of Protestantism that were taking over England. The book dedicates a huge chunk on Henry’s first wives and deconstructing these women from what is believed to what actually happened. There were many other things that I wasn’t completely aware of this period that blew my mind when I found out. And this is how Amy writes, she does it in such a way that she dispels all the myths regarding these elusive figures, namely the women who are still seen through a male objective lens. She starts by Katherine of Aragon, including all the important details regarding her education, her preparation for her future role as Princess then Queen of England to all the contributions she did when she finally became queen, from being a great patroness of artists and humanists, to being the first of Henry’s wives to become Regent and on top of that, enjoy a very amorous and passionate relationship with him. The image that we have of Katherine as prude and old is not very accurate. As she got older she did become more pious and secluded from the material world -though she still enjoyed many of his banquets and participated in the jousts, observing her husband ride like he was still the passionate youth from his younger days. But in her youth she was a highly pragmatic, energetic, passionate and attractive young woman who probably caught Henry’s attention since he led her down the aisle to marry his older brother, the crown heir, Arthur. But there was also another aspect to Katherine and that was that in her years of political limbo, when her father’s enmity with her older sister and her husband forced her to be stranded on England with little to no help from anybody, made her highly dependent on her lecherous priest Friar Diego which in turn, turned out to damage her reputation for a while.
This is not to say that Katherine wasn’t strong. She was but she was also human and very young at the time and with her mother gone, her father and sister far away and at war with each other, she had very few people she could trust, and there was also that cunning and ambitious element of her that is often neglected. Katherine did everything she could after her father came with a temporal solution to alleviate her status by making her his unofficial ambassador. She sought Henry out more, she ingratiated herself with his sister, made sure she was pleasing to both of them, especially the young boy who turned out to be more handsome and athletic than his late brother at his age. By all means, crowned jointly and enjoying equal status, Katherine believed her marriage would be successful but two things happened: Her new year baby died and she suffered a horde of miscarriages and as she did, she also lost her figure and as her looks faded Henry turned his attention to other women. And this is where the author provides evidence that defies the notion that Henry was a prude with only two official mistresses.
Henry wasn’t the libertine monarch that Francis was. He didn’t flaunt his mistresses in Katherine’s face or showed them off to everyone or gave them official status of mistresses as he did. Henry, always concerned with his image, was cautious and with a great network of servants who were willing to do anything to please their king, they helped him keep most of these affairs secret. But occasionally word got out and on two of these occasions it put a strain on his first marriage. Katherine was humble and loyal but she could not accept at first that there was another woman besides her sharing her husband’s bed, she didn’t believe his servant was sleeping with Anne Hastings and argued ferociously with Henry about it but she soon became pliant and docile but her anger turned up again after he had a son with Bessie Blount which he showed off to prove that the fault lay in Katherine not in him for his lack of legitimate sons. Katherine’s discomfort became well known when Henry ennobled him with titles and mansions and gave him almost equal status to that of her daughter.
The most opposition that Henry would face however would not come from his first wife but from Anne. Katherine despite failing to keep her anger and hatred over his affairs secret at times, was true to her motto of ‘Humble and Loyal’ and became beloved by the people for the charity work she did, her time as Regent defending the English borders from the Scots and emulating the virtues that were expected of women -especially royal consorts- at the time. Anne was very different in that respect. She was a cosmopolitan and highly energetic and like Katherine, highly educated woman who sported different religious ideas and whose path with him might not have been intentional as Amy Licence points out. After all, who could refuse the king of England? Nobody. Anne’s strong moral convictions and her refusal of Thomas Wyatt years before, as well as learning from experience after Wolsey had broken up her intended union with Percy, echoed those found in Vives’ books that women had to be on the look out for men’s attentions and refuse any sexual advances. Yet, the author also defies the notion that Henry abstained himself from sex the entire time and the proof of this once again lies in the contemporary sources listing the women present at the time who served or whose husband served Henry and whom he might have fathered illegitimate children with.
Anne’s tragic fall from grace lay in her failure to deliver (as her predecessor) a son. Shortly after her brother and alleged lovers and her own execution, Henry remarried. His third wife, Jane Seymour is more of a mystery and I wish there was at least one more chapter dedicated to her but this is possibly owed to the fact that her reign was very short. However she does dedicate a great deal of attention regarding the time of her son’s conception to Edward’s birth and her death and the possible causes for it. It is well known that Jane died of childbed fever but what led to it? At the time of the birth she was attended by male doctors who did not have the experience or knowledge that midwives did. It is at this point that women stories start to get omitted and women’s labor changes drastically because of it. Midwifery is start to be seen as superstitious whereas ‘learned’ men such as doctors are the new norm. Unfortunately theory is very different from practice and if they had just bothered to ask one of their female counterparts for directions like washing their hands, etc, Jane could have avoided her death.
Between the period of his mourning and courting for royal matches, Henry might have been spending time with other women and this is not such as a stretch as we have seen by the earlier examples. But as a king he needed to marry and unlike two of his wives, he needed a royal match to cement an alliance and the lucky bride was Anne of Cleves whom he later declared was unattractive and that she was not a virgin just by looking at her. The notion is so ridiculous as Amy notes, yet once Henry’s mind was made up, it was made up! And what could you do about it? Poor Anne of Cleves knew very little about the country she was about to get married in. She had been pre-contracted to the Duke of Lorraine and that was used as an excuse to annul her marriage. As a girl she had been trained to be the perfect duchess, not a queen. When she reached Calais her brother wrote to Wriothesley and other royal officials to teach her sister of the English ways and they did just that, but they failed in teaching her about the masques that her future husband loved to engage in. This one omission made a great difference. When Henry met her in disguise, Anne had no idea he was the king and turned away from him coldly exclaiming she didn’t find his attentions funny. This was the whole catalyst for his dislike of her. His next wife was the contrary. She was energetic, to his judgment she was a virgin, and like his third wife Jane Seymour she adopted a similar motto that was meant to express she would be the perfect docile wife. But her past soon caught up with her and when Henry was told of it in a letter he devastated. Katherine Howard would share the same gruesome fate as her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. But her relationship with Thomas Culpeper is also put into question. Was it sexual or just platonic? We will probably never know.
The last wife to take the center stage is the rich (twice) widowed, Katherine Parr. Like the first Katherine she inspired confidence and she was kind, humble and loyal. She was married to Henry for nearly four years, his second longest marriage. She encouraged him to see his children more and she was partly responsible for reinstating Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession. And far from the ‘nurse’ stereotype that is attached to her figure, she was an educated, highly pragmatic and religious advocate whose work helped fast forward the Reform movement in England.
Like with all her books, Amy Licence lays out the facts for you but it is up to you to make the decision whether you believe them or not.
This book is a great addition to the Tudor shelves and to women’s histories which she tells in such a way that hasn’t been told before.
There seems to be a lot of mixed opinions on whether or not Henry VIII was responsible for the deaths of many, including his best friends whom he did not flinch when the death sentence was given to them, and among these are his second and fifth wife and their alleged lovers. However, I recommend everyone to read the entire book ‘Blood Will Tell’ because the author clearly points out that as much as genetics do predispose us to certain behaviors, some of our actions are still our own. Henry was an athletic and highly accomplished prince who everyone puzzled at how could this man they once praised could turn into the monster that he did.
Sir Thomas More, on his coronation, praised him and extolled his virtues:
“Now the people, freed, run before their king with bright faces.
Their joy is almost beyond their own comprehension.
They rejoice, they exult, they leap for joy and celebrate for their having such a king.
‘The King’ is al that any mouth can say.
The nobility long since the mercy of the population,
the nobility whose title has too long been without meaning,
now lifts its head, now rejoices in such a king,
and has proper reason for rejoicing.
The merchant, heretofore deterred by numerous taxes, now once again plows seas grown unfamiliar.
All are equally happy.
All weigh their earlier losses against the advantages to come.”
Of course he and his friends could not have known that Henry suffered from Blood Positive Kell Type and the outcome that such thing would bring to England. Medical knowledge was we know it today was very rudimentary in this period. (The most ‘advance’ medicine and potions they brewed during birth for example, or during other ordeals would outstand us and indeed, it shocked me when I first read about them three years ago. ‘Did they really believe in this stuff?’ But they did. It was very real for them and there was no reason for them to question it).
Furthermore Henry provided a great contrast to his father who died two months prior in April. His father had won the crown and was king ‘by right of conquest’ and later he said and the pope as well ‘by blood’ and his union with the beautiful Elizabeth of York whom he pledged to marry two years prior to his coronation, made him tremendous popular. Their union was also praised by foreigners alike and seen as the union between the two houses who had been at war with each other for almost half a century, Lancaster and York. Of course it was more complicated than that. Henry VII still had to face rebellions, plots and pretenders and he was never fully secured until he executed the last pretender to his crown, Warbeck and his wife’s cousin, Edward Plantagenet, the Earl of Warwick and son of the Duke of Clarence (Edward IV’s younger brother). Henry improved many things for Wales where he was greatly popular but after he suffered from many personal losses (his uncle, his son and a year afterwards, his wife and newborn daughter), he became increasingly suspicious and withdrew himself from the public, appearing only rarely. He demanded more revenue from his people, especially the nobility.
It is no wonder then, why his son who was his complete opposite was so well received. Henry VIII knew how to please the people. As the Roman phrase goes ‘bread and circus’, give the people what they want, food and entertainment and they will cheer you regardless of what you do. And that is what Henry did when he had his father’s notorious councilors and tax collectors, Empson and Dudley arrested and within a year of his coronation, beheaded. This earned him more popular acclaim. Out with the old, in with the new. It was a new age and the people cheered with him.This was also very noted by foreign ambassadors who like Ludovico Falieri, the Venetian Ambassador to England, who noted that in the King, the people had a ruler who was:
“Of such beauty of mind and body is combined as to surprise and astonish. Grand stature, suited to his exalted position, showing the superiority of mind and character; a face like an angel’s, so fair is it; his head bald like Caesar’s and he wears a beard which is not the English custom. He is accomplished in every manly exercise, sits his horse well, tilts with his lance, throws the quoit, shoots with his bow excellent well; he is a fine tennis player, and he practices all these gifts with the greatest industry.”
Falieri had no reason to exaggerate. He wasn’t under Tudor payroll. Everything he said about Henry was true, and Henry knew how great he was in the eyes of many and as soon as he got more extolled by his friends and rivals alike, it got to his head and he developed an extreme narcissistic personality that obviously got worse after he turned forty and was hit with McLeod Syndrome. As many authors, Kramer and Lipscomb, note, genetics and the hit to his head after he fell from that jousting match in 1536, played a great part in his character development for later years in his reign, but so did his environment and his big ego which made him believe (without a doubt!) that he was God’s mouthpiece and that everything he did was not only sanctioned by God, but defying him would be defying the Almighty Himself. And when you believe that, and suffer from all these ailments, then it should come as to no surprise to anybody, that you are capable of doing the most ruthless acts.
1536 by Suzannah Lipscomb
Blood Will Tell by Kyra Cornelius Kramer
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence