Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador

Posted By on January 21, 2012

Today I will be raising a glass and toasting Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador, because on this day in 1556 he died in Louvain, the place he had retired to in 1549. He was laid to rest in the Chapel of Louvain College, the college he had founded.

So, why am I going to be raising a glass to Eustace Chapuys, the man who couldn’t even bring himself to write Anne Boleyn’s name in his dispatches and who would refer to her, instead, as the “concubine” or “putain”? Well, quite simply because I’d be lost without him! His dispatches, which can be read in collections like Letters and Papers and the Calendars of State Papers, give detailed rundowns of events during Henry VIII’s reign. Of course, his reports have to be taken with a large pinch of salt at times, as he did enjoy gossipping, and we do find him correcting things he got wrong in earlier reports etc., but his letters are a wonderful resource for historians, researchers, students and authors. Thank you, Chapuys!

I find it telling that a man like Chapuys, who hated Anne Boleyn with a vengeance, believed her to be innocent of the charges against her, commenting that she and the men were”condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession”. He also wrote of how “there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others, and people speak variously of the King; and it will not pacify the world when it is known what has passed and is passing between him and Mrs. Jane Semel. Already it sounds ill in the ears of the people, that the King, having received such ignominy, has shown himself more glad than ever since the arrest of the putain; for he has been going about banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight, and returning by the river.” Chapuys may not have liked Anne Boleyn, but he obviously felt that her execution had more to do with Henry wanting rid of her so he could marry Jane Seymour than with justice.

Another reason why I like Eustace Chapuys is for his support of Catherine of Aragon and Mary in those dark times when Henry VIII had banished Catherine from court and was putting pressure on Mary to accept Anne as queen and Elizabeth as the heir to the throne. Chapuys was there for those women. When it was clear that Catherine was dying at the end of December 1535, Chapuys was called to Kimbolton Castle. He visited her every afternoon for four days, sitting with her for two hours at a time. He reported that she was worried about her daughter, Mary, and she was concerned that the Pope and Emperor were not acting on her behalf. Catherine was also worried that she might be to blame for the “heresies” and “scandals” that England was now suffering from because of the battle over the divorce. She was haunted by the deaths that had resulted from Henry’s Great Matter and the fact that it had led to England breaking with Rome. He listened as she spilled out the things that were haunting her in those last days. He only returned to England when it looked like she was improving, otherwise he would have been there to the end.

It was also Chapuys who encouraged Mary, for the sake of her health, to sign the submission acknowledging her father as sovereign and as supreme head of the Church of England, promising to conform to the laws of the realm and acknowledging that her mother’s marriage to Henry was “incestuous and unlawful” in June 1536 after she had been bullied and threatened by the likes of the Duke of Norfolk. Chapuys was clearly worried about Mary.

But who was Eustace Chapuys? Well, here are some facts about him:-

  • He was born between 1490 and 1492 and was the second son of Louis Chapuys, a notary of Annecy in the duchy of Savoy, and Guigone Dupuys
  • He studied at Turin University, a university known for its humanism and its excellent law department
  • Chapuys became a doctor of civil and canon laws
  • He was appointed an official to the Bishop of Geneva and became a canon of the cathedral in July 1517
  • In 1522 he was granted the deanery of Vuillonay
  • By August 1526 he was the Duke of Bourbon’s ambassador to Charles V’s court in Granada
  • It appears that he first visited England in September 1526
  • Chapuys joined the imperial service, working under Nicholas de Perrenot, seigneur de Granvelle, in the summer of 1527 after the death of the Duke of Bourbon at the sack of Rome
  • Chapuys arrived in England in September 1529 to begin working as Catherine of Aragon’s adviser in negotiations regarding the annulment. He was her link to the Emperor and to Rome
  • He was responsible for preparing Catherine’s formal protest when Cranmer summoned her to his special court in May 1533
  • In 1534 he drew up a protest against the Act of Succession for Mary
  • In 1535 he made a plan to help Mary escape England but this was vetoed by the Emperor
  • In October 1535 he supported the idea of military action to help Catherine
  • It was Chapuys who reported that Catherine of Aragon’s death was due to poisoning
  • He was forced into acknowledging Anne Boleyn as Queen in April 1536
  • Chapuys was responsible for getting Mary to submit to her father
  • His good friends, Darcy and Husseu, were involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace in the autumn of 1536
  • In 1536/7 Chapuys suppoted Dom Luis as a potential bridegroom for Mary
  • Chapuys was summoned to the Netherlands in 1539 but returned to England in 1540, beginning “a diplomatic dual” with Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador
  • In 1539 he began to suffer with gout
  • Chapuys was involved in the negotiations which led to Henry VIII and Charles V declaring war on France in 1543 and he accompanied Henry’s men to France
  • He wanted to retire in 1544 but had to help his successor, Van der Delft, for some time and then was sent to Bourbourg, near Gravelines, to negotiate until July 1545 when he was finally released from service
  • C S L Davies writes that “His last known state paper is an acute analysis of the political situation as Henry lay dying in January 1547.”
  • He had a son, César, who was made legitimate in 1545 but who died in 1549
  • On his retirement, Chapuys lived in Louvain, where he founded a college, as well as a grammar school at Annecy
  • In 1555 he decided that his English pension should go towards setting up a scholarship for English students at Louvain
  • He hated France and the French and even threatened to disinherit his niece if she married a Frenchman

I loved Chapuys in “The Tudors”, so here is a video about him and his relationship with Mary:-

Notes and Sources

  • LP x. 908
  • C. S. L. Davies, ‘Chapuys, Eustache (1490×92?–1556)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

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13 thoughts on “Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador”

  1. Fiz says:

    I like Chapuys too, for the same reasons you do. It was hardly as if diplomatic bags where inviolable then, as they later became, so it is likely Henry knew of Chapuy’s support for Catherine and and Mary.

  2. Emma says:

    He seems to have been a better supporter of Catherine and Mary than the Emperor himself. I admire him for his loyalty and for the fact that he didn’t let his dislike for Anne blind him to the real reasons for her downfall. His letters have certainly been a great help to those studying the Tudor period. Although being English I am not so keen on his enthusiasm for a Spanish invasion I too will raise a glass to him this evening.

  3. Everything you just wrote is exactly true. There really isn’t more for me to write. I liked the gentleman as well. Great post!

    Anthony Paradiso
    (The Tudor Dynasty)

  4. Dawn 1st says:

    I too, am in full agreement with what you have written above Claire. His loyalty to Katherine & Mary was unquestionable, as his dislike for Anne, but he was not so blinkered by this that he could not see the charges brought against her were false, and wrote so.
    He did remarkably well to have lasted so many years at court, considering he was on the ‘wrong side’. When he left it must have broke Mary’s heart, the last real link to her mother, and possibly the only person she could completely trust, she must have felt desolate.
    Did he have a family life, wife, children etc Claire?, though I would imagine that he never had the time with all the despatching and intrigues of court life.
    He has left a fantastic legacy though, with all his records, he will live on through those.
    So we must thank him for that, and respect him for his unwaivering support given to Katherine and Mary. CHEERS…..

    1. Claire says:

      He actually took religious orders after his law degree so didn’t marry but he did have an illegitimate son who died young.

      1. Dawn 1st says:

        Thank you. Shame his son died, not that I would imagine he would have seen him often with his busy life. Is anything known about the boy, or his mum, were they Spanish.

  5. Esther says:

    Thanks for the article. (I like Chapuys, also … he was a loyal friend and supporter to two good women who badly needed him).

  6. Ceri C says:

    He’s a fascinating character, meddlesome and often exceeding his brief as ambassador, but unremitingly loyal to Katherine and Mary. They must have taken a lot of comfort from him. He was undoubtedly emotional in his responses to them and yet he seems to have been very perceptive, not letting his prejudices cloud his judgement of Anne’s fall. We do owe him a great debt for his records – so long as we take them with a hefty pinch of salt!
    Without him, there is so much we wouldn’t know.
    I think he deserves your toast, Claire.

  7. Lisa Davis says:

    I am never sure how accurate the portrayal of him was in “The Tudors” but he does seem to have been an interesting person. The role of ambassador seemed a lot more political then and more involved with internal affairs so he went to a lot of trouble to speak up for Mary and Catherine than a modern day ambassador would. I admire his support of them and his perceptions of how Anne was being tossed aside for Jane. At least he did provide some information to look at and while he may have gotten it wrong a lot of the time, at least he can provide some information on the rumors that were going around, So I guess he does deserve that toast after all Claire.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Por mucho tiempo, yo solo veía el lado malo de Chapuys, porque siempre se dedico a insultar a Ana Bolena. Pero después te das cuenta de que era un hombre leal y de valores, porque a pesar de todo no permitió que su aversión hacia Ana Bolena le impidiera ver los verdaderos motivos por los cuales el rey permitió que Ana recibiera un juicio tan parcial. La lealtad que tuvo hacia Catalina y su hija es conmovedora, y tal vez, Chapuys fue para María el padre que Enrique no logro ser.

  9. Shirley Francis says:

    God Bless Eustace Chapuys such an interesting man and a brilliant friend to Queen Katherine and her daughter Mary like some else has already said I am surprised he lasted so long at court shows that Henry must have liked him a bit otherwise I,m sure he would have been dealt with . I Enjoy reading your files daily as the Tudor period is my Favourite period . Thank you

  10. Banditqueen says:

    Chapuys is one of my favourite ambassadors, honest and interesting. I admire that he was so protective of Mary and loyal to Katherine. Although he didn’t like Anne Boleyn very much, naturally as she replaced the lady he served and supported, but he was honest enough to say the charges against her were a load of rubbish. He couldn’t believe them in fact. His correspondence brings us into the inner secrets of court life and I was delighted when Lauren Mackay wrote her beautiful book about him and we can see the Queens as he did. He had a difficult job and sometimes a difficult time with his master the Emperor as his correspondence went too far. Henry even admired him and counted him as a friend. Yes they disagreed, but he always welcomed him back and seems to have made more of a sincere effort to be cordial to Chapus than other Ambassadors. Chspus had spies in all their households so we know what they were really up to as well. He was a very clever and dedicated man. Here’s to him.

  11. Lexi says:

    I do believe that he thought he was doing good by supporting Katherine and Mary. He would have done anything for them. He was the link to the Emperor for Katherine , but I think she started to believe the Emperor was slowly cutting ties with her. I’m glad atleast the last days of Queen Kathrines life she had Chapuys to talk to .

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