Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset

Here is an extract from my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown regarding what happened on this day in 1536:

While Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, George Boleyn, Sir Richard Page and Sir Thomas Wyatt were in prison awaiting their trials, courtiers were already clamouring over the spoils that might result from the fall of grace of the former personages. These people were like vultures circling a corpse, like the Roman soldiers casting lots over Christ’s clothes. Three of these ‘vultures’ were Sir Henry Fitzroy (the Duke of Richmond and the illegitimate son of the King), landowner and lawyer Richard Staverton and Lord Lisle.

Here are three letters which show the true character of these men:

Vulture One – Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle

Letter from Lord Lisle to Thomas Cromwell, 8th May 1536:

And seeing there are many things now in his gracious disposition and hands by reason of the most mischievous, heinous, and most abominable treasons against his most gracious and royal Crown and person committed, I wholly trust that his Grace, being good lord unto me, will vouchsafe to employ some part of those same upon me, which I do well know may so much the rather be obtained by your good mediation and furtherance.1

Vulture Two – Richard Staverton of Warfield, Berkshire

Richard Staverton was a lawyer and landowner who may have been related by marriage to Sir Francis Weston. He wrote to Cromwell on 2nd May, just two days after Sir Henry Norris had been detained for questioning:

It pleased you to write to me of your good will to my preferment. Various offenders have been committed to the Tower, among others Master Henry Norris, who has various rooms in the parts about me near Windsor, for which I hope you will have me in remembrance. He has the Little Park, the Park of Holy John (Foly John), Perlam (Perlaunt) Park, and the room of the Black Rod, in Windsor Castle, which I shall be glad to have, as I have 14 children.2

Vulture Three – Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond

The following is a letter from the Duke of Richmond to John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln, 8th May 1536:

As the stewardship of Banbury is like shortly to be vacant in consequence of Mr. Norres’ trouble (many men thinking that there is no way but one with him,) asks the Bishop for a grant thereof under the chapter seal, that he may exercise the office by his deputy Gyles Forster, master of his horse, the bearer. London, 8 May.3

Unfortunately for Richmond, the post had already been given to Thomas Cromwell. Here is an extract from a letter from the Bishop of Lincoln to Cromwell, dated 5th May:

If it is true that Norrys has not used himself according to his duty to his sovereign lord, offers Cromwell the stewardship of the University of Oxford, if he will accept so small a fee as 5l. When the duke of Suffolk exchanged his lands in Oxfordshire with the King, he gave up the stewardship of Banbury to the behoof of Norris, on condition that in the new grant to Norris he might be joined with him for the longest liver. Advises Cromwell to ask the Duke to give up his interest in it. The fee is only 6l. 13s. 4d. Will then give Cromwell a new patent.4

This clamouring over the spoils makes you wonder if there was any chance of justice for Anne Boleyn and these men. These ‘vultures’ seemed to think that it was a done deal.

Notes and Sources

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10 – January-June 1536, 829.
  2. Ibid., 791.
  3. Ibid., 891.
  4. Ibid., 804.

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9 thoughts on “8 May 1536 – Courtiers clamour over the spoils”
  1. According to Eric Ives, upon Anne Boleyn’s arrest, a lawyer named Roland Bulkeley notified his brother Richard in Wales to write to the King in all haste to try to get his share of the spoils too.

    Previous historians had interpreted Roland Bulkeley’s letter as a plea to his brother to help the Queen and those accused with her. Ives, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the Bulkeley brothers were among the many so-called ‘vultures’.

  2. Impressive article, I had never heard of these hasty letters.
    The tone of Arthur Plantagenet’s is most moralizing
    Richard Staverton quietly showing his cynism.
    And Richmond, “forgetting” he was Anne’s first cousin’s own husband.
    Yes, her fate was sealed in anyone’s eye, it seems…

    1. I mean, not only her fate, but her brother’s and alleged “lovers’ ” as well.
      Another question about those who bet George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, would escape death .
      Lisle and overall Richmond were (by birth) of the highest rank at court.
      But this Staverton “of Warfield” ?
      No chance from the very beginning of the trial, rather and it was well known.
      Another reason for KH not to allow Catherine and Jane Boleyn to be heard pleading for their life, later ?
      Better no to show too much of these parodic trials whose outcomes were so certain

  3. In my part of England we have a saying about such greedy opportunists “I bet they wouldn’t jump in their ( as in the people whose goods they were after)graves as quickly”
    Although, in the case of Henry Fitzroy, he died merely weeks after Anne, George and the gentlemen

  4. Vultures is right! How sick and greedy can people be when you cannot even take the belongings of the accused until they have been condemned. The Queen and her alleged lovers had not been tried and the vultures were taking advantage, trying to claim their property and positions while they were still alive and the judicial process not complete. This is evidence that the entire thing was a set up and the court knew that Anne and the others were going to be found guilty and condemned. The trials were a farce.

  5. An accusation of adultery was as good as a seal on the fate of the Queen and her accused lovers. Her reputation was effectively ruined. There was no going back. In my studies, the only accusation of adultery in a consort I ever ran into that did not permanently remove the consort was the accusation against John I’s daughter, Joan. She spent 4 yrs in a convent, and was taken back into favor. In fact, these accusations had been used in a couple of cases to get rid of unwanted and likely innocent consorts, while keeping their goods. In other cases, the situation is less clear, but it was a sure fire way to be rid of an unwanted spouse. Even a reigning Queen, Joan I of Naples, almost lost her crown when this kind of accusation was made. She was also accused of killing her consort, but acquitted. She had to go to the Pope in person to clear herself.

    Cromwell went this route because heresy would strike too close to home. Adultery would be the best way to get rid of her, but of course at the cost of Henry’s pride. He’d never take her back, but the blow would fall heavy, and Cromwell would be relied upon even more heavily than before.

    Failure would cost Cromwell his head. He knew that. Henry wanted to be free, but he would have been happy to leave the means to Cromwell. Cromwell would then have taken measures to make sure Anne really was out of the way, so that any children Henry had with Jane would be unquestionable legitimate, which was something Henry really needed, and would never have with Anne.

  6. Claire, like you I, too, suffer a general malaise when the ‘merry month of May’ descends upon us. The anxiety and trauma suffered by the queen and her accused is as real and reachable today (by me at least) as when it was fresh. The machinations of Cromwell played out in a brutal manner, and were all the more horrifying by their sneak attack. It’s fairly easy to emotionally access the shock and disbelief that were felt by the accused and no wonder poor Anne Boleyn began gushing out, like a cut artery, self-damning statements. In shock, one will often babble incessantly.
    As to the carrion-pickers in your article, those loathsome men began circling with amazing swiftness. I find it funny to imagine Fitzroy’s ire at discovering someone was quicker off the mark than he – there’s the tiniest crumb of poetic justice there.
    Also under the poetic justice category is Cromwell, just scant years in the future, would be begging Henry VIII for ‘mercy, mercy, mercy’ as he awaited his own (botched, ugh) execution.

  7. I, too, feel sad this time of year. I am also astonished that the royal wedding was scheduled for the 19th – can’t imagine a more forboding date for a marriage!

  8. They don’t want much do they? Just the prize offices vacated by Norris and others, rooms tgey had lived in, their clothes and homes and prestige. Greedy vultures.

    I am sad for those lost and suffering at this time and angry at those who practically stole the clothes of their backs before they had been condemned and who set Anne and the five men up for devilish purposes.

    Today the role of Black Rod is as the chief usher in Parliament, the person who summons the commons to the Upper Chamber to the House of Lords to assemble at the command of the Sovereign who will address both Houses of Parliament, or disband Parliament or give them the adgenda for the sessions to come. He bangs on the door today when a new Parliament is opened officially, which is closed in his face as the representative of the crown. He can’t enter without the Commons permission, who then open to him and summon the Members to the Lords. This ceremony goes back to the seventeenth century when the King broke all protocols and entered the Palace of Westminster to arrest five members for treason and took the army with him. This was Charles I and his quarry had flown. Since then the Sovereign can’t enter the House and no MP can be arrested in or for what they say in the House. Black Rod has to be admitted and the MPs process to the Upper House freely. This is only one of his or her (the present Black Rod is a woman) duties but it is the most famous and ceremonial role.

    I noted that one of the ceremonial high officials that was being sought by the vultures above. I was wondering how the office differed in Tudor Times or was it a similar one to his role in Parliament?

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