Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Viscount Lisle – the Last Plantagenet VI

Lady Rutland
Trouble Afoot

In January Arthur approached Dr Olisleger, who had escorted Anne to England, asking him if Anne could take another of Arthur’s stepdaughter’s, Katherine Bassett, to join her sister as one of the ladies of Anne’s Privy Chamber. Olisleger wrote in reply that he had been informed by Cromwell that the posts had already been filled by London.

Anne was more than happy to assist Honor find places at court for her extended family[i]. Honor wrote to Lady Rutland[ii], one of the chosen few, in the hope that she could recommend Katharine, who was already living in Lady Rutland’s household. Lady Rutland replied that the king was the only person who had the choosing of the queen’s ladies.

In February 1540, as part of his power play against Cromwell, Norfolk set up a commission[iii] in Calais to investigate Arthur’s running of Calais, investigating the unrest plaguing the town, as well as;

‘Matters of religion, as touching the observations of the laws, statutes, and ordinances made for the preservation surety and defences of the said Town.’[iv]

St George's Chapel
Arthur was allowed a seat on the commission, along with a number of lawyers, churchmen and lords. The commission reported to London on 5th April, the verdict supported Arthur and his party in the town.

On 17th April 1540 Henry wrote to Arthur summonsing him back to London. Arthur happily set out on the journey back to England, confident that he was about to be raised to the rank of Earl. Once in London he attended the House of Lords.

Arthur then travelled to Windsor Castle to take part in a chapter meeting of the Knights of the Garter. Arthur and Sir Thomas Cheyney were appointed to assist the Earl of Cumberland installing the newly appointed knights at a ceremony in St George’s Chapel. Arthur sat on the king’s left at the ensuing Garter Knight’s feast where he was placed between the newly ennobled Cromwell[v] and Lord Russell.

The Botolf Conspiracy

Tower of London
After this Honor heard nothing more of Arthur apart from the fact that he was ill. On 17th Arthur made a declaration of some sort, the content of which is not known. He was then interrogated before Henry on the following day. Arthur was arrested at 10 o’clock on 19th May and bundled off to the Tower of London.

The problem arose from a conspiracy emanating from within the Lisle household. One of Arthur’s personal chaplains, Sir Gregory Botolf [vi]and two gentlemen servitors, Clement Philpott, Edward Corbett along with a number of lesser servants, were involved.

In January 1540 Arthur gave the three main conspirators permission to travel to England. Catholic sympathisers all[vii], the conspirators were involved in a plot to betray Calais to the French. Corbett and Philpott travelled to England, but Botolf made his way to Rome. The main conspirators, bar Botolf, were arrested on 1st May, this included men Cromwell had insisted on favouring against Lisle’s advice.

On 20th May Honor was placed under house arrest. According to Elis Gruffyd[viii];

‘That afternoon, in the twilight Lord Sussex and the Council went to the Staple Inn where Lady Lisle kept house. She….was put in prison in a room of the palace and the girls were taken from her and put in prison in various places throughout the town. At this time the Treasurer[ix] took possession of all the treasure and clothes of Lord and Lady Lisle in the King’s name.’[x]

Honor and her family were viewed with suspicion, as a result of their friendships with a number of noble French families. Two of the Bassett girls had been living in French households and a marriage was being proposed for Mary with one Gabriel de Montmorency, Seigneur de Bours; making the family even more suspect.

Queen Number Five

Cardinal Pole
To strengthen his own position, rocky in the after effects of the failure of the marriage to Anne of Cleves, Cromwell set about blackening Arthur’s name, making much of a conspiracy that was pie in the sky in the first place. First Cromwell had to separate Henry from his uncle, of whom he remained fond. To do so Cromwell decided to tie Arthur in to his cousin Cardinal Pole[xi], and hoped to eventually defeat his enemy Norfolk was now riding high.

Arrests were made of the great and good. Richard Sampson, Bishop of Chichester was arrested shortly after Arthur, then the king’s chaplain Dr Nicholas Wilson was detained; all three men were accused of treason, having had communication with Rome. But Cromwell was on the losing side and on 10th June he too was arrested, as he arrived to chair a meeting of the Privy Chamber, on the charges of heresy and working against the king’s purposes in religion. He turned to his fellow Privy Councillors and told them;

‘I have never thought to offend, but if this is to be my treatment, I renounce all claims to pardon and ask only that the king should not make me languish long.’[xii]

His words did not placate his fellow councillors, most of whom had long objected to the upstart brewer’s son. Norfolk ripped off Cromwell’s garter star, finally achieving his long held ambition to bring down his rival[xiii].

The Second Divorce

Catherine Howard
The marriage between Anne and Henry was not consummated, as Henry found himself impotent[xiv], and the architect of the marriage suffered as well as the bride. Anne was put out to pasture on 24th June having been given a generous settlement, including Richmond Palace, and Hever Castle[xv]. On 10th July Anne agreed to a divorce and wrote to her ‘brother’ Henry, signing herself as;

‘Your majesty’s most humble sister and servant Anne.’[xvi]

Within days of the announcement of the divorce Anne’s officers and servants were dismissed and replaced anew with people she neither chose nor knew. One of the new ladies was Katherine Bassett.

Cromwell had been reluctant to facilitate the king’s divorce from Anne, knowing that to do so would only open the way to Henry’s marriage to Norfolk’s niece. The dragging of his heels in this matter only eased the way to Cromwell’s fall, much as Wolsey’s failure in Henry’s first divorce led to his fall.

On 28th July 1540, at the instigation of the Duke of Norfolk, Henry married Catherine Howard, one of Anne Boleyn’s cousins. The same day Cromwell was beheaded at Tyburn, Henry practising his usual disregard for the niceties. By then matters were already too late for Arthur to take advantage of the turning tide.

Death of a Queen

Throughout the summer of 1541 there were numerous executions of Catholics and conspiracies were uncovered in Wales and the north of England. The 69 year old Countess of Salisbury was executed in late May, Lord Leonard Grey died in July and all London expected the king’s uncle to be one of the next to die; Arthur probably believed the same. Henry was heard to say that Arthur had erred;

‘More through simplicity and ignorance than through malice.’[xvii]

In July Arthur was released from solitary confinement and was allowed to walk on the Tower walls.

In November 1541 Catherine Howard was accused by Cranmer[xviii]. of adultery with one Thomas Culpepper, one of Henry’s favourite courtiers. She was examined by members of the council led by Cranmer. Catherine was also accused of having a sexual liaison with a Francis Dereham[xix] before marrying Henry. Her family, who had been so eager for her to wed the king, hunkered down in the hope that the flack would not hit them.

Rumours abounded round the country and at one point Arthur’s stepdaughter Katherine Bassett was brought before the Council. She and a friend, one Jane Ratsey, had been overheard indiscreetly discussing the possibility that Anne of Cleves might be considered for the position of queen again. Katherine asking if;

‘God is working His own work to make the Lady Anne of Cleves queen again.’ Her friend, Jane Ratsey, had replied that; ‘It was impossible that so sweet a queen as the Lady Anne could be utterly put down’ and Mrs Bassett had exclaimed, ‘what a man the King is! How many wives will he have?’[xx]

Both Katherine and her friend were reprimanded for their loose tongues, although they were not alone in their hopeful imaginings.

Thomas Wriothesley
On 13th February 1542 Catherine Howard, like her cousin before her, was beheaded for adultery. Also executed alongside her was Lady Rochford[xxi]. By this time rumours were rife that Arthur was to be freed; the rumours fired by the news that his arms had been set up again in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Henry sent his secretary Thomas Wriothesley to Arthur to inform him that he was to be released from the tower. Arthur appears to have had a heart attack and died before he could leave his place of imprisonment;

‘The King sent him his Ring from off his own Finger, with such comfortable Expressions, that he immoderately receiving so great a pressure of Joy, his Heart was overcharged therewith, and the Night following….he yielded up the Ghost.’[xxii]

Henry sent orders for the release of Honor and her daughters who returned to England in mid-March. Honor spent the last 24 years of her life in retirement in Cornwall.


The Lisle Letters – Muriel St Clare Byrne, Penguin Books 1985

The Royal Bastards of Medieval England – Chris Given-Wilson and Alice Curteis, Barnes and Noble Inc. 1984

The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009

Thomas Cromwell – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2008

Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson and Book Club Associates 1972

The Earlier Tudors – JD Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992

Anne of Cleves – Elizabeth Norton, Amberley Publishing plc, 2010

Six Wives – David Starkey, Chatto & Windus 2003

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992


[i] Honor spent a lot of her time pursuing appointments for her daughters and stepdaughters
[ii] Her husband the Earl of Rutland, was Anne’s Lord Chamberlain
[iii] Part of a power play against Cromwell
[iv] The Lisle Letters - Byrne
[vi] A sweet talker, who known as ‘Gregory sweet-lips’ among his fellow servants and was the bad sheep of a respectable Suffolk family
[vii] As was Honor; rumour had Botolf as Honor’s lover
[viii] Gruffyd worked for the deputy Governor Sir Robert Wingfield who had been at odds with Arthur almost from the beginning
[ix] Sir Edward Wotton who was appointed to a post apparently revived in November 1540. The previous post-holder’s remit ceased in 1528; so the seizure was either made by someone other than the Treasurer or happened after November 1540
[x] The Lisle Letters – Byrne
[xi] Of whom Henry now harboured a pathological hatred
[xii] Thomas Cromwell - Hutchinson
[xiii] The Earl of Southampton replaced Cromwell as Lord Privy Seal
[xiv] Naturally Henry blamed Anne for his inability to have an erection
[xv] Former family home of the Boleyns
[xvi] The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune - Head
[xvii] The Lisle Letters – Byrne
[xviii] An opponent of Norfolk’s; the two were at odds over religion as the Howards held to the Catholic church
[xix] Catherine’s private secretary, appointed at the urging of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.
[xx] The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[xxi] Anne Boleyn’s sister-in-law, Lady Rochford had been promoting the liaison between the young couple
[xxii] The Lisle Letters  - Byrne

1 comment:

  1. History as always repeats itself, one is reminded of the pogrums of some of the less stable Roman emperors and more recently the witch hunts against 'communists' in America in the 1950s. Recent research suggests that as well as sustaining the wound to his leg which ulcerated when jousting, Henry probably sustained a head wound which was enough to change his personality.