The Concubine, the Organist and the Portuguese Infanta

Charles V

On this day in history, the 15th May 1536, before Anne Boleyn had even been tried and found guilty, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, wrote to his ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, regarding what he had heard about Queen Anne Boleyn, the allegations against her and the King’s plans to remove her and remarry. What is interesting about this letter is that it shows quite clearly the assumption that Anne would die and that Henry would need a new Queen – Charles obviously had not yet heard about Jane Seymour!

Here is the part of the letter pertaining to Anne Boleyn, I have boldened the interesting bits:-

“Hannaert has written to Granvelle on the 9th that he had just heard that the king of England’s concubine had been surprised in bed with the King’s organist. If this be so, as it is very probable that God has permitted it after her damnable life, we think the King will be more inclined to treat, especially as regards our cousin; but you must use great dexterity lest the King intend a marriage in France, and that he should rather choose one of his own subjects, either the one with whom he is in love or some other. We trust that if there be anything in it you will let us know with diligence. We send letters of credence for you for the dukes of Richmond, Norfolk, and Suffolk, and also for Cromwell, such as you will see by the copies. Pontremulo, 15 May 1536.

P.S.—Since the above was written your man George has arrived, who confirms the news touching the King’s concubine, and, as we suppose that the King will put her and her accomplices to death and take another wife, as he is of amorous complexion and always desires to have a male child, and as on the side of France they will not fail to offer him a match, you will suggest, when you can, to him or Cromwell, a marriage with the Infanta of Portugal, daughter of our sister the queen of France, who has 400,000 ducats dowry by testament. Another marriage might be arranged for the Infant Don Loys of Portugal, our brother-in-law, with the princess of England. You must point out to them that these matches would be very expedient, both to remove past scruples and to promote strict amity between us, him, and Portugal, and would be very advantageous to England in case the King should have a male child by this marriage, as he may reasonably hope from the youth and bringing up of the Infanta. If you see the King not inclined to these marriages you might propose one between the King and our niece, the duchess dowager of Milan, a beautiful young lady, well brought up and with a good dowry; treating at the same time of the other marriage between Don Loys and our cousin. But we should greatly prefer the former match with the Infanta, for the good of both, and in order to be able to dispose of our niece of Milan otherwise. Bersel, 15 May 1536.”1

I find it rather chilling that Charles V just accepted the situation and even thought it was good news, in that he could secure a good marriage alliance for his niece and stop Henry VIII allying himself with France. As far as Anne was concerned, Charles seemed to think that she deserved it for her “damnable life”. I know that he was Catherine of Aragon’s nephew but even so, such cold, harsh talk gives me goosebumps!

Notes and Sources

  1. L&P x. 888, Letter from Charles V to Chapuys, 15th May 1536

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12 thoughts on “The Concubine, the Organist and the Portuguese Infanta”
  1. Fascinating letter – Thanks for digging this up! It tells so much about the different perceptions on different sides, in different countries, and so on … We should keep this always in mind when reading ambassadorial dispatches.

  2. “Chilling” is putting it mildly, Claire! If I am not mistaken, Charles, as a young boy, was in the Netherlands, in the custody of his aunt, Margaret of Austria, while Anne was a maid of honor in Margaret’s service. He would have had a chance to meet her and get to know her, as one of his aunt’s servants. Is it possible there might have been some bad blood between the two of them at that time, and later reinforced by Chapuys’s letters?

    Or could it be that Charles was well aware of what was happening to his other aunt, Katharine of Aragon, and believed that Anne, alone, was responsible for the abominable conditions Katharine was in? He was in England, at some point in the mid 1520s, and I’m sure he had a chance to meet Katharine, who was, by all accounts, a gracious and likeable woman.

    Whatever the case may be, this is, indeed, chilling, to say the least!

    A pity Anne could not have called upon her connections in France to help her out. King Francis had written to the Pope numerous times, in support of the annulment of Henry and Katharine’s marriage, and was known to have commented, “My good brother of England has no son, because, although young and handsome, he keeps an old and deformed wife.” Why didn’t Francis speak up on Anne’s behalf, as most of the rest of Europe was speaking up on Katharine’s behalf?

    1. Here we go with the myth making. Anne was a random person in the service of the Regent of the Netherlands so of course she knew the future Charles V very well and now there’s bad blood between them.

      Rubbish!!!! Its entirely possible that she and hundreds of people were present at the same time and entirely meaningless. She may at best have encountered him from time to time but would hardly have gotten to know him. She wasn’t important. She was a child of 12 and he would be 14 but they would hardly know each other. Don’t be ridiculous. Learn something on how a foreign royal court works. She would have spent most of her time with women, out of the way for one thing, then her status was well below that of the future King of Spain, there is no way Anne Boleyn did more than meet him on occasion, if that, let alone get to know him well.

  3. Wow, I had never read this letter before. I agree…it’s definitely “chilling”! But considering Charles’s way of ruling and his attitude towards Anne in general, it’s not very surprising that he was so cold and indifferent towards her death. He thought of Anne less as a woman who may or may not be guilty of horrible crimes and more as a political nuisance that was finally being removed.

  4. It was, and still is, a business, all right.
    No one spoke up for Anne, especially in France, because she was box office poison, no use to any of them anymore, who always probably saw the Boleyns as pawns in their royal games of chess.

  5. I think the chilling thing about this (not yet touched on) is Charles being so willing to turn his niece over to the man who had discarded Charles ‘ aunt and was in the process of killing his second wife. He seems to have no qualms at all. Brr!

  6. Although this letter clearly articulates Charles’ attitude to Anne (not a positive one!) it does also say something about views about women in general at this time. Here, four women are treated disparagingly; firstly, Anne, who is treated as nothing more than a political nuisance who even failed in giving Henry a son, secondly, Catherine of Aragon, whose appalling treatment by Henry and Anne goes unmentioned (even though it must have been a motivating factor in Charles’ dislike of Anne) and the Portuguese Infanta and Duchess of Milan who, like Carolyn mentioned, are about to be thrown under the bus as possible third wives for Henry, in spite of the fact that Henry treated his first wife, Charles’ aunt, appallingly. Therefore, it is clear that these men saw women as nothing other than political pawns and royal baby makers.

  7. I agree there is a chilling aspect, in that Charles is obviously o. K with arranging another marriage with his young niece, the daughter of his sister, the Queen of Portugal and in that he assumed, no almost knew that Henry would have Anne executed. The news has also been confirmed while he was writing the first letter, which means that a messanger was despatched immediately after the trial of the five men or even before.

    The gossip certainly has gone up a notch as in this version Anne has been found in bed with the organist, definitely even more fruity than everything she was actually accused off.

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