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18 April 1536 – Chapuys encounters Anne Boleyn

Posted By on April 18, 2016

Eustace ChapuysOn 18th April 1536, the first Tuesday after Easter, Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, arrived at Henry VIII’s court at Greenwich Palace to meet with Henry VIII regarding negotiations between England and the Empire. He was met by George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, the brother of the queen, and a series of events led to him encountering the queen. Chapuys recorded what happened in a letter to Charles V:

“Before the King went out to mass Cromwell came to me on his part to ask if I would not go and visit and kiss the Concubine, which would be doing a pleasure to this King; nevertheless, he left it to me. I told him that for a long time my will had been slave to that of the King, and that to serve him it was enough to command me; but that I thought, for several reasons, which I would tell the King another time, such a visit would not be advisable, and I begged Cromwell to excuse it, and dissuade the said visit in order not to spoil matters.”1

But Chapuys was not going to get out of seeing Anne. Chapuys continues the story:

“I was conducted to mass by lord Rochford, the concubine’s brother, and when the King came to the offering there was a great concourse of people partly to see how the concubine and I behaved to each other. She was courteous enough, for when I was behind the door by which she entered, she returned, merely to do me reverence as I did to her.”2

As the late Eric Ives pointed out in his book on Anne Boleyn: “Chapuys’ visit to court on 18 April was clearly stage-managed to compel the ambassador to recognise Anne”, i.e. to recognise her as queen, which he did by bowing to her after she’d stopped and bowed to him.3 Although Chapuys downplays this event in his letter to the Emperor and it has been noted that Anne was paying her respects to Chapuys, and through him, Charles V himself, and that Chapuys was simply acknowledging that rather than recognising her as queen,4 his behaviour upset his dear friend Mary, daughter of Henry VIII by his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Chapuys explains that “Although I would not kiss or speak to the Concubine, the Princess and other good persons have been somewhat jealous at the mutual reverences required by politeness which were done at the church.”5

Here is an extract from my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown explaining what else happened that day:

“Later that day, after dining with George Boleyn, Chapuys met privately with the King to discuss a potential alliance between the Emperor and England. This was a meeting which had been set up by Thomas Cromwell, who seems to have been intent on negotiating a twin alliance, allying England with both the Schmalkaldic League and with Charles V.6 The only obstacle was Chapuys’ condition that England should accept papal authority. Cromwell had worked on this, leading Chapuys to believe that Henry VIII might come to an agreement with France, instead of with the Empire, if Charles continued to be so demanding.

Unfortunately, at the meeting, Chapuys made it plain that for any alliance to go ahead, the Lady Mary would need to be restored to the succession. Although Cromwell had led Chapuys to believe that this would not be a problem, Henry VIII would not tolerate this idea. In his eyes, Mary was illegitimate and Elizabeth was his heir. Henry blew up, reacting “confusedly and in anger”7 and “reproached” the Emperor with “great ingratitude”. He made it clear that his relationship with the Pope and his daughter Mary’s future were nobody’s business but his, and that he would not be told what to do by Chapuys and the Emperor. According to Chapuys, Cromwell and Audley “appeared to regret these answers”8 and when Chapuys spoke to Cromwell, the secretary was “mortified” by what had happened and was “hardly able to speak for sorrow”.9 The stress of the situation led to him arguing with the King and then taking to his bed “from pure sorrow”. The King was ruining Cromwell’s negotiations!

The next day, 19th April, the Bishop of Tarbes reported to his master, Francis I of France, that the Duke of Norfolk had told him “that what he had said the last time they met was true, and that whatever overture the Emperor might make things would not be other than they have been hitherto. Replied that he had no doubt of this, knowing that the friendship between the Kings cannot be affected by any practice or overture of the Emperor.”10 The King was keeping the Emperor and the French king on tenterhooks.”11

Also on this day in history:

  • 18th April 1540 – King Henry VIII made Thomas Cromwell Earl of Essex, just three months before he was executed after being found guilty of treason, heresy, corruption and more.
  • 18th April 1587 – The death of John Foxe, martyrologist – click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume X, 699.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, p. 314.
  4. Mackay, Lauren (2014) Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, Amberley Publishing.
  5. LP x. 720.
  6. Ibid., 115.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., note 700.
  10. Ibid., 688.
  11. Ridgway, Claire (2012) The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, MadeGlobal Publishing, entry for 18th April 1536.

9 thoughts on “18 April 1536 – Chapuys encounters Anne Boleyn”

  1. Aynne says:

    So Easter was the 16th? For some reason I thought it was the 9th?A

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, in 1536 it was the 16th. We know Maundy Thursday was on 13th April due to contemporary documents and we have letters from 16th written on “Easter Day”. Confusion can stem from the fact that John Skip’s sermon was recorded as being on Passion Sunday, which today we celebrate on the sixth Sunday of Lent but back then was celebrated on the fifth Sunday. Hope that helps!

  2. Esther says:

    Here is an interesting article on Chapuys and Anne meeting (from Nerdalicious):

    http://nerdalicious.com.au/history/the-queen-and-the-ambassador/

    Whatever else, I strongly doubt the idea that this meeting is a sign that Henry is still committed to his marriage.

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, I mention that view of the encounter in my article. I think Lauren Mackay’s book is excellent and she makes interesting points regarding the meeting, offering an alternative view of it, but I agree with Eric Ives. I think the encounter was stage-managed by Henry VIII after Chapuys’ refusal to meet and kiss Anne. I think Henry wanted to put the ambassador in his place and so forced the issue. Mary was not impressed by what happened.

      Yes, I’ve come to believe that by this point Henry was looking for a way out of the marriage, but this didn’t stop him putting Chapuys and the Emperor in their place.

      I’d love to know for certain what really happened.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    What I love about this incident is the way two sides see it so differently. As Claire has pointed out it was cleverly staged by Henry, yet what was Chapyus to do? He was standing right there as the King and Queen come down from their private chapel where they view the Mass to make their offerings at the main alter. Anne has to pass him. He cannot ignore her, he called turn his back on her, he has to make some gesture to her. Anne nods, he bows, honour is satisfied, that is the only point the sources agree.

    Henry has the satisfaction as far as he is concerned that Chapyus by this simple gesture, a small bow (I don’t see him making a full courtly bow here) recognizes Anne as Queen, something Eustace has been careful to avoid for three years. Politically it is significant as Chapyus represents the Emperor, so what he says and does appears to represent what Charles V says and does. He speaks for Charles, although I suspect, having read several of his letters that Eustace adapts some things and even acts independently, emotionally and as he believes is appropriate; he officially acts on behalf of Charles, so bowing to Anne is the Emperor acknowledging Anne Boleyn is Queen and Henry’s lawful wife. In the conversation with Henry about a shift in foreign policy, the succession of Mary, Chapyus does indicate that in response Charles is prepared to go someway to recognizing the marriage of Anne and Henry. The negotiations, set up by Cromwell, went wrong, with Henry losing his cool and being insulted by the suggestion that God wants only male children for England, berates Cromwell and shouts about being a true man. The backdoor policy of Cromwell is dead in the water, but it caused Anne to act by way of the Skip sermon from an earlier post. Perhaps this set up is Henry making a point and getting what he wanted. He may be fed up with Anne, but the Emperor does not dictate his domestic or foreign policy. Henry it was noted by the English sources was delighted with himself and his trap working. Chapyus had a different view.

    As the source will show that Claire has linked to in the book by Lauren Mackay, Chapyus says that he was being polite and nothing more. He is astute and very quickly realized the fuss this would cause, especially if word got back to Charles that he has made any unauthorized show of homage to Anne Boleyn. He says that he merely bowed to Anne out of courtesy as she had nodded to him. He does not see this as a gesture of acknowledging Anne as Queen. He needs to give his side, he probably felt an urgent need to explain things, after all he has been around the court of Henry Viii for a few years, he knows what Henry thinks like, so he is aware that he is making political spin from this. Thus we have a different view of the incident. Lauren Mackay who has been studying the correspondence and documentation from Chapyus to bring about this portrait of the man and intimate insider eye witness unique information about the life with the wives of Henry Viii, believes that Chapyus was correct and the incident cannot be interpreted as him acknowledging Anne. He certainly did not intend to do this. However, as Claire points out, this case can be interpreted in a few way, just as it was by Henry, Anne and Chapyus. Personally I go with Chapyus as I think that he was annoyed and embarrassed and the entire thing left him trapped. The series of bows, nods and the circumstances, including the presence of Henry, also back Chapyus thoughts on this occasion. It would also have been extremely rude and against all public and courtly protocol for him not to acknowledge Anne, Queen or Royal mistress or even as a noble woman. The rules of court were rigorous. Nobody placed there hat back on to their heads or sat down before their social betters, of any rank. Everybody bowed, lower if someone was of higher status or royal apointee or higher rank, they rose in accordance to protocol. Chapyus’s actions could also be seen in the context of rank and protocols, the royal presence and saving face. The man himself went to great pains to state that he was not paying homage but being polite. Henry probably felt very smug for a time.

    What is ironic about this public show of support for his wife by Henry is that in less than two weeks he will publicly abandon her and never see her again. What a cad!

    1. bruno says:

      Hi Banditqueen,
      Another example that when both of you – Claire and yourself – dissert on a matter, it does bring sth totally complementary ; I am very fond of this lively scene of comedy – thanks to Chapuys indeed we get so valuable comments, as well as a thrilling gallery of portraits.
      With diplomacy, of course comedy would not be farl…
      I would just add two shadings to Banditqueen’s grave comments.
      Being, as you know, quite a monomaniac, I react to your “Henry PROBABLY felt very smug FOR A TIME” – thinking you could easily erase the words I wrote in large letters…
      And “cad” is too kind a word, I think
      Ok I am just teasing …
      The word “Concubine”sort of psalmodized by Chapuys is akin to the Coué method.
      While this status was indeed quite questionable, I have to add that Charles V would not show the same moral disgust towards an undiscutable “concubine”, that is of course a royal mistress, Anne, made duchess of Etampes by Francis I himself.
      In order to make his court to the french king, he indeed offered Anne jewels (as if it was by accident, saying sth like “I can’t remove a collar from such a lovely neck” an act not only stage-managed by him, but certainly rather painful, for the emperor was well known for his incredible stinginess, very unlike this english and french equals indeed).
      Still Francis i was a married man by then – and it was to Eleanor, the emperor’s sister.
      And his mistress was a protestant, a fact of which king Francis was conscious (like were many courtiers), but that she publicly exposed as soon as her royal lover died (so only in 1547).
      Comedy because the three sovereigns used to handle one another with kid gloves.
      (I guess it is about the same by fierce animals, in order to avoid conflicts that would have dreadful effects).
      Or maybe Charles took s seriously KH’s threaten by then?
      It is however a funny thing to imagine “poor” Eustace Chapuys somewhat “taken” by Anne Boleyn’s wit and tact at a point he would unable to react in a proper way and forget the good form of his mission.
      About the exigencies of etiquette, as you certainly know Banditqueen would be even stiffened at the french court in the reign of “le Roi-Soleil”.
      Such an incident would not be imaginable by then .
      People were placed and seated according to their rank (like by “Madame Tussaud’s”) .
      Respects

      1. bruno says:

        Correction – it was a diamond rather.
        Fallen into two beautiful hands to be removed
        This event took place in Fontainebleau in 1540 . By then, Anne of Etampes was known as medling with public matters (and especially receiving ambassadors).
        She was very learned and brilliant, but (just a guess of mine) rather cold-hearted and however not as fascinating as Anne Boleyn.
        After the king’s death she would be totally forgotten

  4. Frances says:

    As always, great read.

    Quick question: if going back to Papal authority was one of the Emperor’s wishes, wouldn’t this be against what Cromwell was fighting for, i.e. the reformation?
    I understand restoring the lady Mary to the line of succession wouldn’t be an issue for him, but wondering how Cromwell overlooked that bit in facilitating the negotiations.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      I don’t believe the alliance relied on Henry accepting papal authority and Cromwell would not have contemplated such a thing. It does seem to have been dependent, at least in part on Mary being restored to favour and a place in the succession. Charles and Francis were both obliged to enforce the Excommunication if the Pope asked them to, but ironically he didn’t enforce it until 1538. In any event the two European Monarchs were too busy aiming their weapons at each other to invade England in 1536, although it remained a threat. A possibility was a form of reconciliation and compromise which would avoid war rather than a formal alliance. This would have been the first stage and it appears Henry had at first been willing to listen, but he was not prepared to be dictated to, especially on the issue of Mary and the Succession. If more formal terms were offered in writing, there may be a compromise but Chapuys could not offer this. Henry was most certainly fed up with all of the two faced antics of the Emperor over the years and let his real feelings be known. Henry completely lost it and behaved like the child he complained about being treated as. He had to teach Cromwell a lesson as it appeared as if his First Minister was going too far and presenting his own foreign policy. The main reason for his explosion, however, was his double bluff because he was covering up the fact that his marriage was about to be brought to an end and a new marriage would mean a new direction in politics in any case. By the end of these few days Chapuys was reporting on a circus at Court and Cromwell had left court, possibly under instructions from the King, to conspire the downfall of the Queen.

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