Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and the leader of the men.
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and the leader of the men.

Following the execution of her stepmother, Anne Boleyn, in May 1536, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, the Lady Mary, was in hope of a reconciliation with her father. She had been estranged from her father due to her refusal to acknowledge the annulment of her parents’ marriage and to recognise her father’s marriage to Anne, her refusal to accept her status as illegitimate and her refusal to accept her father as supreme head of the Church in England. Now Anne was gone, Mary hoped that she would be “forgiven all her offences” and that she would be allowed back into her father’s presence.

Her father had other ideas.

On 15th June 1536, King Henry VIII sent members of his council, led by Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, to visit Mary at Hunsdon. The aim of the visit was to persuade Mary into accepting her father as supreme head of the Church in England, and acknowledging that she was not the legitimate heir to the throne. However, their idea of persuasion amounted to bullying. Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, recorded the visit of the council members in a letter to Emperor Charles V:

“To induce her to obey his commands and accede to his wishes, the King sent to her a deputation composed of the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Sussex (Robert Radcliffe), the bishop of Chester (Roland Lee), and several others, whom she literally confounded by her very wise and prudent answers to their intimation. Upon which, finding that they could not persuade her, one of them said that since she was such an unnatural daughter as to disobey completely the King’s injunctions, he could hardly believe (said the interlocutor) that she was the King’s own bastard daughter. Were she his or any other man’s daughter, he would beat her to death, or strike her head against the wall until he made it as soft as a boiled apple; in short that she was a traitress, and would be punished as such. Many other threats of the same sort did the said deputies utter on the occasion, assisted in their task by the Princess’ governess, who happens to be the same as before, having then and there received orders not to allow the Princess to speak a word to any one, and to watch over her so that she should never be left alone by night or day.”

You may think that these were empty threats and that Mary was in no danger, what with her being the King’s daughter, but Chapuys certainly feared for her safety and advised her to “make all manner of sacrifices” “in order to save her own life”. He did not see these men’s threats as empty and he had heard that Mary’s chief servant had been imprisoned at “Cromwell’s lodging”. Here is his report to the emperor of his advice to Mary:

“I have written to her fully and in detail, advising, among other things, that, should the King, her father, obstinately persist in his determination, should she herself hear from friends at Court or elsewhere that her life was really in danger through ill-treatment or in some other way, my opinion was that she ought to obey her father’s commands, assuring her at the same time that such was Your Majesty’s advice and wish. That in order to save her own life, on which the tranquillity of this kingdom and the reform of the many great disorders and abuses by which it is troubled entirely depended, it was necessary that she should make all manner of sacrifices, and dissemble for some time to come, the more so that the protest previously signed and the cruel violence used were quite sufficient to preserve her inviolable right, and at the same time relieve her conscience, inasmuch as there was nothing in it against God nor against the articles of Faith. That God looked more into the intentions than into the deeds of men, and now she had a better opportunity than when the King’s concubine was alive, since there was a question of depriving the bastard (Elizabeth) and making her (Mary) heir to the Crown. I was certain that, should she go to Court, she might by her prudence and wisdom be able to lead the King, her father, to the right path, availing herself of Your Majesty’s valuable intercession after your probable reconciliation with him. Many other similar things have I written and inculcated upon the Princess in order to persuade her that the best course for her to pursue in case of unusual violence is to yield for the present to the King’s wishes.”

Chapuys went on to describe how Mary followed his advice, and signed the submission to her father “without reading it”, but doing so had a huge impact on Mary and she “fell suddenly into a state of despondency and sorrow”. Chapuys comforted her, though, by explaining that the Pope would not hold it against her and that he would “highly approve of it under the circumstances”. I hope that his words did comfort Mary, but I can imagine how hard it must have been for her to do something that was against everything she believed and that she would have seen as betraying everything her mother fought for.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1519 – The traditional date given for the birth of Henry Fiztroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, in Blackmore, Essex. Richmond was the acknowledged illegitimate son of Henry VIII by his mistress Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount. Click here to read more about him.
  • 1560 – William Somer (Sommers), former court fool to Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I died in Shoreditch, London. He was buried at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch. Click here to read more about Somer.

Notes and Sources

  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, 70.

Related Post