Eustace Chapuys

Ambassadors to foreign courts are rarely remembered, but the name Eustace Chapuys is familiar to any lover of Tudor history. A champion of Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary, Chapuys has left behind him lots of letters and dispatches about one of the most tumultuous periods of English history. Although often easily dismissed as biased and unreliable (and to an extent, that’s true), his reports also chronicle the events of Henry VIII’s reign and the gossips that were circulating around his court, which is why they are a wonderful resource for anyone interested in this period.

But who was Eustace Chapuys and how did he end up at the English court? The second son of notary Louis Chapuys and Guigone Dupuys, Eustace was born between 1490 and 1492 in Annecy, then in the duchy of Savoy. He studied at the university of Turin, which had an excellent law department. He remained there for 5 years, and then studied at the University of Valence, and later, at the Sapienza University of Rome. There, he became a doctor of civil and canon law, and received the Pope’s blessing.

In 1517, Chapuys was ordained and became an official of the diocese of Geneva, where he worked for the bishop and the Duke of Savoy. In 1522, he was granted the deanery of Vuillonay. Four years later, as the Duke of Bourbon’s ambassador, he was at the court of Charles V in Granada. That same year, 1526, he also made his first visit to England. The following year, the Duke of Bourbon died at the sake of Rome. Chapuys then joined the imperial service, working under Nicholas de Perrenot.

In 1529 he was back in England. His job was to advise the Queen, Catherine of Aragon, in the negotiation regarding the annulment of her marriage. Throughout her ordeal, to the very bitter end, Chapuys offered the unfortunate Queen all the support, both legal and emotional, she needed. He prepared her formal protest when she was summoned to a special court in May 1533, supported a military plan to help Catherine and, shocked just as much as she was by the eventual break with Rome, listened to the poor woman confessing she blamed what had happened on her stubborn refusal to fight for her, and her daughter’s, rights. When Catherine died, Chapuys believed she had been poisoned.

Chapuys was also a supporter of the Princess Mary. He drew up a protest against the Act of Succession, which excluded Mary from the inheriting the throne, and made plans to help her escape from England (although the Emperor vetoed those). Chapuys really cared for Mary and her well-being and she, in turn, came to rely on him during some of the most difficult years of her life. Henry has started treating his daughter very harshly, determined as he was that she too should recognize that his marriage to Catherine had been incestuous and unlawful. Mary stood firm against the bullying and threats, but Chapuys, worried about what could happen to her, convinced her to submit to her father.

It’s no wonder then that Chapuys always strongly disliked Anne Boleyn, whom he called the Concubine and, sometimes, even putain. Yet, when Anne was condemned to death for incest and treason, Chapuys was among those convinced of her innocence. The King by this time was in love with Jane Seymour, and wanted to marry her. Therefore, Anne had to go. Chapuys remained as an ambassador to England until 1539, when he was summoned to the Netherlands. But his stay there was brief and pretty soon he was back to England. That same year, he also began suffering from gout.

Chapuys was involved in the negotiations for an alliance between Henry VIII and Charles V, which lead to them declaring war on France. The ambassador then accompanied Henry’s men to France. His health continued to deteriorate and, in 1544, he asked to be relieved of his post. Instead, he was asked to help his successor, Van der Delft learn his job, and then was sent to Bourbourg, near Gravelines, for some negotiations. In July 1545, he was finally allowed to retire. That same year, he recognized Cesar as his legitimate son, but, sadly, the boy died four years later.

Chapuys spent his retirement in Louvain, where he founded a college. He also founded a grammar school at Annecy. In 1555, he decided to use his English pension to set up a scholarship for English students at Louvain. Eaustace Chapuys died on 21st January 1556. He was buried in the Chapel of Louvain College.

Further reading:
Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay

Best Posts Of 2013

Hello everyone,

the year is almost over. That means it’s time to take a small trip down memory lane and reminisce about some of the topics we’ve discussed this year. Here we go:

Le Bon Genre: a series of prints depicting the lives, pastimes and interests of the Parisian middle class at the beginning of the 19th century.

The World’s First Sex Therapist: Dr James Graham was a pioneer in sex therapy, a medical entrepreneur, a quack and a brilliant showman. He created The Celestial Bed, an electromagnetic bed that was supposed to help couples conceive. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and her husband used it.

Was Anne Boleyn Beautiful Or Ugly?: Anne Boleyn’s appearance still remains a mystery. We only have one authenticated picture of her and lots of contradicting descriptions. So, what’s the truth?

Mary Eleanor Bowes: an ancestor of the Queen Mother, she was one of the wealthiest heiresses in England. She was the victim of domestic abuse and was even kidnapped by her violent husband. She managed to escape his clutches but her reputation never recovered from the scandals surrounding her divorce proceedings.

Catherine Of Aragon’s Pregnancies: if Catherine of Aragon wasn’t able to give her husband Henry VIII’s an heir, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Unfortunately, most of her pregnancies would end in miscarriages or still births. Only one daughter, the future Mary I, would survive to adulthood.

Georgiana, The Trendsetter: Georgiana was the Queen of fashion of her time. Whatever she wore, everyone else soon copied. Check out this article to discover some of the trends she launched.

Marie Bashkirtseff: Marie was a famous and popular Russian painter. Despite suffering from tuberculosis, she worked incessantly, egged on by her desire to do something worthwhile in art that would live after her. Sadly, a large number of her works were destroyed during World War II.

Marriage A La Mode by William Hogarth: one of Hogarth’s most famous works, this series of prints depicts the disastrous consequences of arranged marriages, a very widespread practice among the upper classes at the time.

Princess Louise Of France, Blessed Thérèse of Saint Augustine: Princess Louise, one of the daughters of the womanizer king Louis XV was a very pious and devoted woman who decided to leave the splendors of Versailles behind and become a nun. But she would still use her royal connections to help the causes she believed in.

Elizabeth Chudleigh: Elizabeth lived a very scandalous life that defied all the conventions of her time. A bigamist, Elizabeth would try hard to deny her first marriage had ever happened, which would be her downfall. Despite this, she was also a generous woman who never lost her zest for life.

Armand de Gontaut, Duc de Lauzun and Biron: a brave soldier and a womanizer, the Duc was a supporter of the Revolution, believing it would bring freedom to the country. He also fought for it, and participated in the repression of the uprising of the Vendee, but this wasn’t enough to save him. Like many noblemen, he too lost his head.

Marie Antoinette’s Wardrobe: Marie Antoinette had a huge and luxurious wardrobe. This article explains how it was organized, and how the Queen decided what to wear.

Jane, Duchess Of Gordon: Jane was the Tory version, and rival, of Georgiana, Duchess Of Devonshire. Very active in politics, she once even kidnapped a man to secure a seat for one of her friends!

Was Gabrielle De Polignac A Loyal Friend Or A Greedy Social Climber?: Gabrielle was Marie Antoinette’s best friends. The friendship earned her (and her family) lots of money, perks, and titles, but also a reputation as a frivolous and greedy social climber. But who really was Gabrielle?

I hope you’ve enjoyed these articles!

Did Catherine Of Aragon Suffer A False Pregnancy?

Everyone knows that poor Mary I had two phantom pregnancies. Little known, instead, is the controversy that surrounded her mother’s first pregnancy. Maybe that’s because the records are sketchy. But they do hint at the possibility that Catherine of Aragon may have suffered a false pregnancy as well.

Catherine had married Henry VIII on 11 June 1509 and got pregnant shortly afterwards. Obviously, the King and the whole country rejoiced at the news that soon a new heir to the throne would be born. But then, something went wrong. On 31 January 1510, the Queen went into premature labour and gave birth to a still-born girl. Catherine and Henry were devastated, but, at first, seemed to hang onto the possibility that Catherine had actually been pregnant with twins and was still carrying one of them.

Why? Well, after the labour, Catherine’s abdomen, rather than decreasing, remained rounded and even seemed to grow bigger. Although today we know that could have been a symptom of an infection, the medical knowledge of the time was still rudimentary, leading the doctors to believe the Queen was still pregnant with a child. They didn’t change their minds even when Catherine began to menstruate again. Apparently, only Luiz Caroz, the Spanish ambassador, who admittedly had just arrived in England and hadn’t heard of the January miscarriage, thought this was ridiculous.

At the end of February, the King gave orders to refurbish the royal nursery in anticipation of the birth, and, the following month, Catherine entered her confinement. But the baby never came. Instead, the swelling decreased. It was now obvious that everyone had been fooled. Only then, a sad and embarrassed Catherine wrote to her father, King Ferdinand of Aragon, that she had just miscarried. It was a lie, but one said probably because she was scared of disappointing her father, like she had disappointed her husband. It seems, in fact, that Henry was angry at her over this embarrassing situation.

Further reading:
Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen by Giles Tremlett

The Birth Of Henry, Duke Of Cornwall

On 1 January 1511, in the very first hours of the morning, Catherine Of Aragon, wife of King Henry VIII, gave birth to a baby boy. Finally, England had an heir! His parents were overjoyed. The baby was called Henry, like his father and grandfather, and duly baptized four days later at the Chapel of the Observant Friars at Richmond. King Louis XII of France, who sent a golden cup and salt as gifts for the royal baby, and William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, were chosen to be his godfathers; his godmother was Margaret of Austria. The baby, known as The New Year’s Boy”, was also soon made Duke Of Cornwall.

The prince’s birth was celebrated with a tournament in his mother’s honour held at Westminster. The Queen was present, enjoying the spectacle with her ladies-in-waiting. The King and his knights jousted. The King had the words “Cure loial” (loyal heart), embroidered on his shirt, a profession of love and devotion to the Queen; his cousin Edward Neville was Valiant Desire; William, Count of Devonshire was Bon Voloire (good will); while Thomas Knyvet was Joyeux Penser (happy thoughts). Henry ran 25 courses and won a lot of fights, but it was Valiant Desire, aka Edward Neville, who won the tournament. The tournament was followed by a banquet, held in the White Hall of Westminster Palace, which got out of hand. The crowd got rowdy and even attempted to strip the King. Luckily, Henry was in a very good mood and just laughed it off.

Unfortunately, tragedy soon struck. On 22 February, little Henry suddenly died. He had lived for only 52 days. The cause of his death is unknown.  His parents were distraught, although Henry tried to be strong and comfort Catherine. Hall, in his Chronicle, says: “The kyng lyke a wyse prynce, toke this dolorous chaunce wonderous wysely, and lore to comfort the Quene, he dissimuled the matter, and made no great mourning outwardely: but the Queue lyke a naturall woman, made much lamentacion, how be it, by the kynges good persuasion and behauiour, her sorowe was mytigated, but not shortlye.”

After his death, Catherine tried to give Henry a healthy son, but all her pregnancies ended either in childbirth or miscarriage. She was, however, able to give birth to a healthy daughter, Mary I. But a girl wasn’t good enough for Henry. He would later move heaven and earth to divorce Catherine so that he could remarry and have a son. How differently things would have turned out if only “little Prince Hal” had lived!

Further reading:
Hall’s Chronicle
The Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

The Birth Of Mary I

On 18 February 1516 , at 4:00 am, at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, Queen Catherine, holding in her hands the belt of Saint Catherine to ease the pain of a long labour and pray for a safe delivery, finally gave birth to a bouncing and healthy baby. This was the Queen’s sixth pregnancy and she must have been relieved that the baby was fine. But this relief was mixed with bitter disappointment for the sex of the baby: it was “just” a girl.

Still, it meant that Catherine and her husband, Henry VIII, were capable of conceiving a healthy baby and the couple hoped they would soon be blessed with sons. “Sons will come,” Henry said to the Venetian ambassador Giustinian, who had delayed to offer his congratulations because the baby was “only” a girl, “the queen and I are still young”. The baby, who “already showed signs that she had inherited the red-gold hair of both her parents and the clear Tudor complexion”*, was named Mary, after her father’s sister Mary Tudor.

Three days after her birth, Mary was baptized in the Church of the Observant Friars. Among her godparents were Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, her great-aunt the Countess of Devon, and the Duchess of Norfolk. Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salinsbury, stood sponsor at the baby’s confirmation, which took place just after the baptism. Margaret would be appointed Mary’s governess the following year. At the end of the ceremony, the heralds proclaimed: “God send and give long life unto the right high, right noble and excellent Princess Mary, Princess of England and daughter of our most dread sovereign lord the King’s Highness.”

*Linda Porter

Further reading:
The wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

Margaret Beaufort’s Advice To Catherine Of Aragon

Just before Catherine of Aragon married Arthur, the heir to the English throne, his grandmother Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, who was Queen Mother in all but name, sent her a series of instructions about life at the English court. Antonia Fraser remembers a couple of them in her book, The Six Wives Of Henry VIII:

Catherine should attempt to learn French by speaking it with her French-educated sister-in-law, the Archduchess Margaret, in order to be able to converse in that language when she came to England.

The next request was for Catherine to accustom herself to drink wine. ‘The water of England’, wrote Elizabeth of York sadly, ‘is not drinkable, and even if it were, the climate would not allow the drinking of it’.

Further reading:
The Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

Catherine Of Aragon Arrives In London

On 12 November 1501, Catherine of Aragon entered London. She was welcomed by cheering crowds while the King had organized a magnificent spectacle that was meant to awe the populace, charm the princess and herald a bright future for the country. Catherine was betrothed to the heir to the throne, Prince Arthur, and their marriage was supposed to legitimize the Tudor dynasty and bring stability and prosperity to England.

As usual in these occasions, there were several pageants. First, a young girl representing “Saint Catherine” appeared on London Bridge, carrying her wheel*. Next to her stood Saint Ursula, the daughter of a King of Brittany who had converted to Christianity. The second depicted Catherine as Hesperia (or western land; it was the name given to Spain by the ancient Romans), a bright evening star, and Arthur as Arcturus, the star that accompanied the birth of the Prince.

In the third pageant, the Archangel Raphael and King Alfonso of Castile, from whom both the bride and groom descended, announced a bright future for the couple. Other pageants compared the Tudor court to the celestial one. King Henry VII was compared to God, while Arthur to the “Son of Justice”, one of the many names given to Christ. Humility wasn’t really a Tudor characteristic. But people were also reminded that Catherine had English royal blood in her veins as she descended from John of Gaunt, from the House of Lancaster.

The ceremony ended with Honour addressing Catherine thus**:

Noble princess, if this you’ll purse
together with your excellent spouse, then
with us you’ll reign in eternal prosperity

Catherine married Arthur two days later. But despite these happy and prosperous wishes, the marriage would be short-lived. Arthur would die a few months later, leaving Catherine a widow, and a virtual prisoner in England as the King refused to pay her dowry back to her father and kept postponing her marriage to his other son, the future King Henry VIII. The marriage would eventually take place, to end in a bitter divorce.

*Saint Catherine was condemned to die on the wheel, but that shattered when she touched it. So, she was beheaded instead.
** Translation from Italian is mine

Further reading:
The Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

The Best Confessor That Ever Woman In My Position Had

In the period between Arthur’s death and her marriage to Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon had grown very close to, even dependent on, her new confessor, Fray Diego Fernández, whom she described as the “best confessor that ever woman in my position had, with respect to his life as well as to his holy doctrine and proficiency in letters”. She said that he “was serving me faithfully, giving me good advice and a good example, and nothing grieved me more than that my poverty did not permit me to reward him as he deserved.”

However, not everyone at court liked the new confessor. Fray Diego had gained such a hold over the princess that she obeyed him in everything. Here’s an example:

Fuensalida describes Fray Diego Fernandez as a monk having neither learning nor appearance, nor manners, nor competency, nor credit. He was light, haughty, and licentious to an extreme degree. On another occasion the ambassador calls him a “pestiferous” person who could not too soon be removed from the presence of the Princess. But, on the other hand, he was young, and does not seem to have been deficient in aptitude for the despatch of business, as he discharged not only the duties of confessor but also those of chancellor to the Princess. He gained her confidence and her affection. The most effectual weapon in the hands of a priest is the belief of others that he is the dispenser of rewards and punishments in future life. Of this Fray Diego made a most unscrupulous use, declaring everything to be a mortal sin which displeased him, however innocent it might be.

Fuensalida gives us one striking illustration. King Henry had asked the Princess Katharine and Princess Mary to go to Richmond, where he intended to meet them. When the Princess Katharine was ready to start, the friar came into her room, and said to her, “You shall not go today.” The Princess, it is true, had vomited that night, but was again perfectly well, and the distance she had to travel was at the utmost less than one league. She therefore protested that she was not ill, and did not like to be left behind alone. The friar, however, overruled her objections in a high-handed manner by his categorical command, “I tell you that upon pain of mortal sin you shall not go today.” The Princess, “not daring to displease him,” had no choice left, and underwent the humiliation of telling the Princess Mary, who had been waiting for her more than two hours, that she was unable to go.

It is easy to imagine the feelings of the English gentlemen who, having been appointed to escort the two princesses, rode off with the Princess Mary alone, leaving their future queen behind in the company of a young Spanish monk of bad repute and a few servants, one of whom had arrived by mere chance. They could not have been deceived by her pretext of indisposition, as they had seen her at mass and at dinner in perfect health. When, on the following day, she went to Richmond, accompanied by no other living creature than three women on horseback, her maestre sala, a chamberlain, and Fray Diego, King Henry was so much incensed, that for several weeks he did not take the slightest notice of her, although during that time she really fell ill. “May God forgive me,” exclaimed the ambassador, “but since I have known so well the affairs of the Princess’ household, I acquit the King of England of a great and very great portion of the blame which I hitherto laid on him, and do not wonder at what he has done, but at what he does not do.”

Fray Diego made the infatuation of the Princess a means of obtaining pecuniary advantages. She was living in absolute poverty, and her father had strictly forbidden her to sell any portion of her plate and jewels, which were to be given in part payment of her dower to the King of England. In spite of these injunctions she sold some plate, and would have sold more had she not been prevented by her servants, in order to “satisfy the follies” of the friar; and, unmindful of her own wants, she employed the money in buying books and other things for him.

Further reading:
Calendar of State Papers, Spain: Supplement to Volumes 1 and 2: Queen Katherine; Intended Marriage of King Henry VII to Queen Juana

Catherine Of Aragon’s Childhood

Despite being heavily pregnant, Queen Isabella of Castile, wife of Ferdinand of Aragon, followed her troops at war with the Moors who had settled in the south of Spain. In the autumn, she finally decided to travel north and settle at Cordova to await the birth but, due to the inclement weather conditions, she never reached it. Instead, she sought refuge at the Archbishop’s Palace in Alcala de Henares and here, on 16th December 1485, she gave birth to her last daughter, Catherine (or Cataline in Spanish). The baby was named after her maternal great-grandmother, the English princess Catherine of Lancaster.

Her parents, who were both sovereigns in their own right, already had four children; Isabella, Juan, Maria and Juana. Catherine didn’t have a typical childhood. She spent the first years of her life travelling around Spain with her parents while they were attempting to drive the Moors out of Spain, saw them succeed in their mission and witnessed Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World.

Her mother Isabella was a patroness of culture who made sure all her daughters received a top notch education. She hired some of the most famous humanists of her time, such as Alessandro Geraldini and his brother Antonio, and Pietro Martire of Angera, as tutors for her children. They taught Catherine Latin, French, Greek, Spanish, history, canon and civil law, literature and the legends of King Arthur of the Round Table, heraldry, genealogy, the classics and religion. Like her mother, she was a very religious woman and throughout her life her strong faith would sustain her through all her trials and tribulations.

Catherine also learned music, dancing, drawing, embroidery, lace-making and needlepoint. However, she wasn’t taught English, the language spoken by her future husband, Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne. That was odd, considering Catherine was betrothed to the English Prince at the tender age of 3. Luckily, Arthur was also well-educated and could speak Latin, so they communicated in that language. Their marriage however, would be short-lived. Arthur would die a few months after the wedding and doubts over whether the marriage was ever consummated would be used by her second husband Henry VIII to divorce her.

Further reading:
The Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser