Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset
On 8th May 1536, while Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, George Boleyn, Sir Richard Page and Sir Thomas Wyatt were in prison at the Tower of London, courtiers were busy writing letters to put forward their claims for offices and titles that may soon become vacant.

In my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, I liken these courtiers to vultures circling a corpse or the Roman soldiers casting lots over Christ’s clothes, but, at the end of the day, people will be people and courtiers expected to benefit from the falls of others. Fortune is a fickle friend. It still gives me a bad taste in my mouth, though, when I read their letters.

Three of these “vultures” were:

  • Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, Deputy of Calais – Lisle wrote to Thomas Cromwell on 8th May, expressing his shock at “the most mischievous, heinous, and most abominable treasons against his most gracious and royal Crown and person” and going on to say, “I wholly trust that his Grace, being good lord unto me, will vouchsafe to employ some part of those same upon me.” He didn’t have a particular office or piece of land in mind, he just didn’t want to be forgotten.
  • Richard Staverton, a lawyer and landowner of Warfield, Berkshire – Staverton wrote to Cromwell on 2nd May, the day after Norris’s apprehension, telling him that Norris had “various rooms in the parts about me near Windsor, for which I hope you will have me in remembrance” which would be useful to him because he had 14 children to care for.
  • Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, illegitimate son of Henry VIII – Richmond wrote to John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln, on 8th May asking for the stewardship of Banbury, which was “like shortly to be vacant in consequence of Mr. Norres’ trouble”. Unfortunately for Richmond, Thomas Cromwell had already taken the post.

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume X: 791, 804, 829 and 891

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7 thoughts on “8 May 1536 – The vultures begin to circle”
  1. There was also Sir Richard Bulkeley. As mentioned in Eric Ives’ ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn’, Bulkeley was notified of the arrests at court by his brother Roland, a lawyer, who urged him to make his claim of the victims’ spoils before it was too late.

    Interestingly enough, Anne’s biographer Paul Friedmann, writing in 1884, interpreted Roland Bulkeley’s letter to his brother differently. Friedmann believed that Sir Richard was to hurry to London, not as a ‘vulture’, but to help the Queen.

  2. As one of your many American fans, I wonder if you might comment on referring to Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset as ‘Richmond’. I see that happening (to others as well) in books and TV shows and I have always been curious about that custom. Henry Fitzroy has two Duchys…Dukedoms? (is that the correct word?) so in that case would the one he was awarded first be the title used as his name?

    Thank you in advance.

  3. These examples of treachery would have been made available to Elisabeth I & I think they are in part her reason for remaining The Virgin Queen

  4. I find it galling that anyone should be staking their claims on the Boleyn property, lands and personal property, especially as this was not lawful. The King could order an inventory of the assets for lawful seizure from the crown, but as none had been tried or condemned the goods and land cannot be physically taken or disposed of before they are. The Tudors may have abolished the part of the Titulas Regas which reversed the basis of Richard lll claim to the throne, but it’s main Parliamentary statutes remained law, only reversible by an ACT of Parliament. It was also enshrined in Magna Carta. It is a wonder Cromwell as a legal expert did not point this out. Henry has not passed acts to do this in each case at this point to Attain and allow the seizures if the accused are condemned. Once they have been he can take their goods, the vulchers will have to circle for a time yet. The enemies will have to wait.

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