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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