8 May 1536 – Vultures Hover over the Spoils of the Fallen

Posted By on May 8, 2013

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond

It was the way of the Tudor court, as men fell from favour others were waiting in the wings to mop up the crumbs and gain from their fall. It seems brutal to us today, but I guess it’s human nature; there are always people looking to see how they can gain from another’s misfortune.

While Queen Anne Boleyn, musician Mark Smeaton and courtiers Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, George Boleyn, Sir Richard Page and Sir Thomas Wyatt were locked up in the Tower of London awaiting their fate, other courtiers were already clamouring over the spoils that might result from the demotions or deaths of these people. In my book on Anne’s fall, I liken them to vultures circling above a corpse or the Roman soldiers casting lots over the clothes of Jesus Christ and I think the similes are quite apt. These vultures, who included Sir Henry Fitzroy, Lord Lisle and lawyer Richard Staverton, didn’t care about what was happening to Anne and the men, their eyes were on the prizes: the money, lands and offices that they may be able to secure for themselves. How fickle Henry VIII’s court was.

So what were these men rubbing their hands with glee over?

Well, Lord Lisle wasn’t fussy. He wrote to Thomas Cromwell on 8th May 1536 simply pointing out that Cromwell could pass some “things” onto him:

“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

Richard Staverton, a lawyer and landowner of Warfield, Berkshire, who may have been related by marriage to Sir Francis Weston, was after some of Sir Henry Norris’s lands; his excuse being that he had fourteen children to provide for. He wrote to Cromwell on 2nd May so he was quick off the mark:

“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

Sir Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, was after an office held by Sir Henry Norris. On 8th May, he wrote to John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln making enquiries about the post:

“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

Richmond, however, was not quick enough; a letter from the Bishop to Thomas Cromwell on 5th May 1536 shows that Cromwell had already been offered it:

“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

As I said in my previous article in this subject, and also in my book, the way that these men were clamouring over the spoils makes you wonder if there was any chance of justice for Anne and the men. Richmond, Lisle and Staverton seem to have considered their fates a done deal. Wyatt and Page survived though.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x. 829
  2. Ibid., 791
  3. Ibid., 891
  4. Ibid., 804

9 thoughts on “8 May 1536 – Vultures Hover over the Spoils of the Fallen”

  1. Laura says:

    Sadly, things haven’t changed much. I’ve seen with my own eyes, in both work and personal life people clammering for position when someone else has fallen down. Anyone who sits in position will always have shark’s under their feet wanting their job.But what I’ve discovered is these sorts of people seem to forget that what they do to others, will, eventually be done to them! The Tudor court was fickle place, as pointed out in the article. And I honestly think a person would have to be very clever, and very canny to hold on to their position. As long as there is ambitious people, then this sort of behaviour will continue. Even in today’s Royal court this sort of thing happens. I’ve read enough books to know that!

  2. Ingrid says:

    With this, it’s clear to me that some names as Henry Norris certally made part of one list of ‘ condemned’ who would not survive. Even if he could be safe and could establish his life, he probable would lost everything that was about money and position.

    It’s make me nevours to see that Cromwell had seletd everything even before the imprisionement at the tower and the final trial.

    But that it is something very true in life, if you have one good position it’s obviouslly that someone is wishing the same. If you fall, that’s indeed is a great oportunity to obatin the deseared position.

    About Henry Fitzroy I was very surprise. I Know maybe I shouldn’t but I was.

  3. Mary the Quene says:

    In the spirit of, “The King is dead, long live the King” these men brooked no false sentiment about the fates of the men shortly to die. Rather they treated it as a practical matter – “As long as he will no longer need the rooms, mightn’t I store some of these pesky fourteen (!) children in them?”

    One’s life was viewed more pragmatically then, due to high infant mortality rates, the ‘sweating sickness’ – fatal and uncontrollable, death from infection, household and farming accidents, public executions viewed by picnicking families (!!) – death was not a stranger to anybody.

    To our 21st century sensibilities this seems callous as it turns on its head the notion that it’s all about ME and my UNFINISHED BUSINESS and my FEELINGS (sorry for shouting) but it was an everyday fact of life then. People died. Sometimes peacefully and sometimes horribly and that was that. No use letting rooms, positions at Court or anything else go to waste. “Mum, as long as dead Gran doesn’t need that shawl, I’m feeling the cold a bit . . . ”

    Henry Fitzroy’s request came in late; Cromwell proving that ‘age and treachery will beat youth and enthusiasm every time.’ Cromwell seemed to never miss a trick.

    Interesting to see the names of the rooms in Windsor – can’t wait to look them up now! ‘

  4. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Well that does’nt suprise me one bit ,there in the Tower and already frothing at the bit to get what ever titles ,and lands for there dirty deeds,but thats what these types of people do, heartless climbers!!at the exspence of anyones misfortune!They are still alive and these men are in some kind of a race too get ,as much as they can get out of the ,dead men walking!!I get angerd !!As it is said,If Greed Were A Fever The Whole World Would Be Ill. Regards Baroness x

  5. Sonetka says:

    Off-putting but pretty typical. Everyone wanted to be first past the post, with natural deaths as well as executions. If you look in L&P you can find people petitioning for William Carey’s preferments the day after his sudden death — they must literally have sat down and written the moment they got the news.

  6. mlady says:

    What a bunch of vultures, although, I think it’s no different today. They didn’t care about everyone waiting in the tower to find out whether their lives would be spared or not. There were riches up for grabs, first in, first served!

  7. Tudorrose says:

    It was all about money power and greed (wealth) at the end of the day. Nothing more and nothing less. It is sad though that whilst they were still prisoners and confined just little over a week all these preparations were being made quite far in advance.

  8. Jed says:

    Public executions are still a national sport today. Only difference is, the rope, the axe, the guillotine etc is now invisible. That’s why we’re call ed civilized. We’ve found cleaner ways to destroy people and fill their shoes with others until their time comes too.

  9. Dawn 1st says:

    There always was, and still are those waiting to step into ‘Dead man’s’ shoes.
    Are we a little more ‘refined’ now-a-days and actually wait until the body is cold? who knows. I would like to think so….

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