As I read through Letters and Papers to look at primary source evidence for the events leading up to the execution of Anne Boleyn on the 19th May 1536, it sickens me to see how the vultures were gathering to ensure that they had their share of the spoils even before the trials of Anne Boleyn, Rochford, Smeaton, Norris, Weston and Brereton. These people had not even been found guilty of anything, yet their possessions, lands and titles were rich picking for the vultures that were circling because people knew that a guilty verdict mean not only the death sentence but also the confiscation of land, offices and goods.
Obviously there were those who wrote to Cromwell and the King after the executions, with petitions for the confiscated lands and titles, and there were those who were rewarded after the executions, but the following men are vultures in that they were circling well before the trials.
Vulture 1 – Lord Lisle
On the 8th May Lord Lisle (Arthur Plantagenet) wrote from Calais to Cromwell as soon as he heard news of the arrests. In his letter he wrote:-
“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
Lisle accepted the guilt of the Queen and the five men without question and was asking Cromwell to remember him and to make sure that he benefited in some way. John Husee took Lisle’s request to Cromwell and was able to write to Lord Lisle on the 12th May that “I delivered your letter to Mr. Secretary, who promises to be your very friend.”2 It appeared that Lisle would indeed benefit.
Vulture 2 – Richard Staverton of Warfield, Berkshire
This vulture was quick off the mark! Richard Staverton, who Alison Weir describes as “a landowner and lawyer of Lincoln Inn” who may have been related to Sir Francis Weston by marriage (his wife was Margaret Weston), wrote to Cromwell on the 2nd May, just one day after Sir Henry Norris had been detained for questioning:-
“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.”3
His letter shows just how quickly the news of the arrests spread and the way people just accepted that Anne and the five men would be condemned. Staverton’s position, as a man with 14 children, and the fact that he lived near Norris’s lands, made him feel that he deserved to benefit from the fall of Henry Norris.
Vulture 3 – the Duke of Richmond
On the 8th May, Sir Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond and Henry VIII’s illegitimate son by his mistress Elizabeth Blount, wrote to John Longland, the Bishop of Lincoln, regarding the arrest of Henry Norris and asking if he could secure Norris’s stewardship of Banbury for his servant, Giles Forster, as “it is presupposed with many men that there is no way but one with him.”4 However, the Duke was too late as the Bishop had already offered the stewardship to Sir Thomas Cromwell in a letter dated the 5th May:-
“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.”5
The Duke of Richmond benefitted from the deaths of Rochford and Norris in that he was later appointed the Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle (posts held by Rochford), and Chancellor and Chamberlain of North Wales (Norris’s office).
Notes and Sources
1 – LP x.829, Letter from Lord Lisle to Cromwell, Calais, 8th May 1536
2 – LP x.855, Letter from John Husee to Lord Lisle, 12th May 1536
3 – LP x.791, Letter from Richard Staverton to Cromwell, 2nd May 1536
4 – Quoted in The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p178
5 – LP x.804, Letter from Longland Bishop of Lincoln to Cromwell, 5th May 1536