Eustace Chapuys and the tyrannical Henry VIII
Posted By Claire on January 26, 2015
Just a few days ago, I wrote about Henry VIII being unhorsed by his opponent during a joust at Greenwich Palace on 24th January 1536, an accident which one source claimed led to the king being unconscious for over two hours.
Whether or not the king was unconcious for that long, it was serious enough for Henry VIII to give up jousting and it may also have had other consequences. But you can read more about that in my article Henry VIII’s Jousting Accident. What I want to draw your attention to here is a quotation from the report of Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador, in which he appears to be comparing Henry VIII to a Greek tyrant who was responsible for a reign of terror.
Click here to read my article “Did Chapuys call Henry VIII a tyrant?” and do share your thoughts.
4 thoughts on “Eustace Chapuys and the tyrannical Henry VIII”
The reference to the 30 Tyrants may be a famous incident in Spartan history, a time that the Spartans rued, but the word tyrant is actually of Greek origin and it does not normally refer to someone cruel. In Athens and other cities Tyrants were appointed by common assent and by the denos or the body who sat and drew up elections amongst the citizans on seious and major decisions. In varied times there were anything from 500 tyrants to a series of 5 tyrants in succession. They were appointed in times of crisis to keep or to restore order or to lead in a way that gave them autocratic powers normally shared by a senate or ruling body of people. The reason may be in order to give orders for the building of new ships and defences for war after a time of fiscal instability and unrest. They did not all rule in a tyrannical manner, but some were lauded as strong but fairminded rulers. The incidents like that above, however, became more common as tyrants abused their power and the name became linked to cruelty and ruling without regard for the needs or consent of the people or representative bodies.
I would have to read the source myself, but how can we really know what Chapyrs meant by his assessment of Henry. His own experience of the King had begun at a bad time; during the years of the divorce and the latter mistreatment of the Emperor, his masters, aunt and the Princess Mary. So diplomatic as he was, honest as he was, this assessment was coloured by that experience. We do know that Henry and the ambassador got on well, that he was close to and worked well with both Katherine and the King and while he was obviously closer to and had sympathy with the Queen, he also had a good relationship with Henry. Eustace came to England in 1529; at this time although Henry was concerned about his marriage and was in the middle of pursing a divorce for the last two years; there is nothing of the latter so called cruelty and tyranny in Henry at this time.
Chapyrus had seen the course of the divorce and the growing decline in the relationship with Rome as Henry became mor impatient and therefore the decline in his relationship with Catherine. He had also witnessed the rise of Anne Boleyn and Henry’s infatuation with her and growing passion. Finally he had seen the turning point, the marriage of Anne and Henry and the annullment on the Kings orders not via Rome but via an English court. In the seven years since his arrival in England and 1536, when he saw the decline of Anne, her lose of her child, her fall and death, and the death of both Anne and Katherine, he had also seen many changes in all of the people involved. He had seen laws introduced that led to people being killed for their support of Katherine and Mary and for Rome; he had seen the Kings character change and Henry become more and more disillusioned with his wife Anne. He had seen things that convinced him that Henry was turning into what we would now term a tyrant, but this was coloured by the witness of Henry’s treatment of Katherine and his daughter Mary, their banishment, separation and lack of access to each other or to anyone else. He had seen Henry put away a wife of more than 24 years, not giving her an allowance and lands of her own, or giving her a pension and dignity, but treating her as a prisoner. He had allowed his daughter to be bullied and mistreated and Chapyrs had made his comments based on these changes. But did he really mean that Henry was a tyrant; after all he was all too willing still to serve at his court and to remain on good terms with him, and he was pleased beyond measure when Henry wanted to join with his master to make war on France in 1544. It seems thas his views were coloured by his comparing Henry with his own master; and not necessarily based on real state of affairs at the time they were made.
If you click on “Click here” it takes you to the article with all the references so you can read them for yourself. Yes, the root of the word “tyrant” may have a different meaning in the original (I’ll have to check with Tim and my son as they have both done Ancient Greek), and I’m not sure when the name was given to those men but it was because of their reign of bloodshed in which 1,500 of the population of Athens was killed. Whatever Henry VIII’s beahviour or how he was perceived by others, Chapuys’ comparison to Theramenes is pretty clear as to what Chapuys thought of him. Chapuys was suggesting that Henry VIII had been spared this death because Fortune had something worse in mind for this tyrant. Obviously Chapuys judgement was coloured by his links to Catherine and Mary and how he had seen them treated, and also Catherine’s recent death, but I don’t think he thought much of Henry at all at this point.
Yes, I agree, Chaprys must have worked Henry out very well, I doubt he was won over by the Kings self righteous propaganda and promotion of his importance or ‘I am doing all this by divine command’ attitude that Henry had adopted. It must have seemed to Chaprys that the universe is a bit unfair in allowing kings like Henry and the tyrants in the references to have a free reign while the innocent suffer. It’s interesting also that even Chaprys believed that Anne was innocent of the charges against her later in the year. I agree that he was disappointed in Henry, he clearly had the insight to Gage what was going on and to realise that in the mission of stopping his opposition Henry sadly was just getting started. To see a virtuous Queen like Katherine set aside, a faithful King and humanist like Henry turn into the opposite, the country turned upside down, faithful courtiers and religious institutions that had been protected for a thousand years destroyed, must have been a profound shock, hard for Eustance to witness. I can understand his anger, despair and reference here to the tyranny he was forced to watch and remain in diplomatic service despite all of that. The final ten years of Henry’s reign must have sickened him, yet as a diplomat and someone who does seem to have had personal regard for the King at some point, Chaprys had to show dignity, neutrality and serve at a court that could only have continued to baffle and shock him. I wonder if ambassadors somehow grew hardened to the cruelty they witnessed, whether at a foreign court or their own.
After reading this Greek history source, I’d say Chapuys dished out what the modern vernacular would call a, “burn.”