An Heir to the Throne
Henry and Thomas Seymour brangled at court during the autumn of 1537, when Seymour accused Norfolk of sympathising with the Yorkshire rebels. Still mourning the loss of his childhood friend Henry struck Seymour[i] and spent several months banished to Windsor as a result. It was here that he wrote the ‘Windsor Elegy’ in heroic quatrain; a contrast between his happy years there with Fitzroy and the unhappy present when new men took over court[ii].
‘So cruel prison how could betide, alas!
As proud Windsor? where I in lust and joy,
With a king’s son my childish years did pass,
In greater feasts than Priam’s sons of Troy.’[iii]
Henry’s arrogance did not dissipate as he brooded during his confinement. But he was recalled to court in early October. Queen Jane was about to give birth. Prince Edward was Queen Jane’s crowning moment and her death, two weeks after Edward’s birth, sanctified her memory in Henry VIII’s mind[iv].
Norfolk stood as one of the child’s godfathers although Henry was not at the ceremony. He did attend the queen’s funeral as one of ‘the six assistants about the corpse and chair’. Henry then returned to East Anglia. There was little enough for a Howard to do at court as Cromwell successfully blocked Norfolk’s access to the king until the spring of 1538.
|Anne of Cleves|
By the summer of 1538 the Seymours’ position at court had become unassailable with the presentation of a legal heir to the throne. Cromwell was already looking to bolster his position by finding the king a new wife; to his misfortune his recommendation alighted on Anne of Cleves, sister of the Protestant Duke of Jülich-Cleves.
Thoughts of an alliance with the French fell through as Henry VIII’s demands were insupportable to a Catholic monarch; recognising Henry VIII as head of the church in England and that the French maidens in competition for the honour of being his bride be ferried to Calais for inspection at market.
With the failure of a French marriage Norfolk, who had been closely involved in the negotiations, found himself not needed by the king. Eager to regain his position at court Norfolk cast upon the idea of marrying his daughter Mary to the younger of the queen’s two brothers. And this, despite the fact that the Seymours were mere country gentry and parvenus at court. Norfolk even went so far as to claim that;
‘There ensueth no grete good by the conjunction of grete bloods together.’[v]
Even Cromwell, jealous of any attempts to encroach on his position of power, supported the match between Thomas and Mary. In early June the king gave his consent to the proposed marriage, all that remained was Mary Howard’s formal assent. This was not forthcoming; Mary’s brother had stuck his oar in. Ever jealous of his noble birth and lineage and, determined to prevent a mésalliance, Henry persuaded Mary, in front of an audience of interested courtiers, to refuse the commoner. Mary left court for Kenninghall in July, and despite her father travelling after her, he was unable to change her mind.
Henry was further irked that his father had proposed his children Jane and Thomas (born 10th March 1538) as spouses for the children of Edward Seymour[vi], the Earl of Hertford without the matter having been discussed with Henry. Norfolk’s hold on Henry was firm, despite the fact that Henry was now in his early twenties. Norfolk selected Thomas’ godparents and planned his grandson’s future.
Henry dined at the Seymour residence in London four times in November 1538, but most of that winter was spent in Norfolk where he was a Commissioner of the Sewers with responsibility for the county’s watercourses. He also assisted his father in ducal business.
Despite being kept chronically short of money by his father, one of the richest men in the country, Henry spent a king’s ransom on maintaining his own splendour. He commissioned paintings of himself by the king’s artists, maintained a splendiferous wardrobe and built a new house in Norwich, on the site of the Benedictine Priory of St Leonard’s[vii]. Built in the Italian Renaissance style the house was furnished with all manner of treasures in the way of tapestries and furniture.
Henry was, like his father, a gambler, but while Norfolk had the psyche of a good gambler, the impulsive Henry did not. He was constantly in debt and he and Frances were forced to live at Kenninghall with Bess Holland and Mary. Henry even borrowed money from his own servants to fund his lifestyle.
The Downfall of a Common Man
Despite their differences the Seymours worked together with the Howards to bring down Cromwell whose championship of the Cleves marriage brought him into disfavour with the king. Henry VIII took against Anne as soon as he met her in the flesh in early January 1540, reportedly calling her ‘the Flemish brood mare’. It cannot have helped that Cleves had asked for guarantors for the lady’s safety[viii]; the king of England’s reputation went before him.
Henry was one of those chosen to ride before the king at Greenwich, as he rode in procession to meet his new wife. The marriage was solemnised on 6th January 1540 and within days the king was demanding that Cromwell rid him of this latest marital encumbrance.
In the mean time it was decided to hold a tourney at Westminster at the beginning of May; Henry immediately signed up as one of the challengers to Thomas Seymour, George Carew and Richard Cromwell[ix]. As the highest ranked competitor Henry opened the jousting against Sir John Dudley[x]. Throughout the seven days of the tournament Henry was neither unhorsed nor did he unseat any of his challengers.
It was Cromwell’s alleged protection of religious radicals in Calais that was to be the final straw in the case the Seymours and Norfolk were building against their enemy[xi]. The letter, found at Crowell’s house in Austin Friars so angered the king that he ordered Cromwell’s immediate arrest.
Both Henry’s brother Thomas and his sister Mary were attracted to the vibrancy of the new religion. The reformers believed that Henry himself could be detached from the Howards’ staunch support of the old religion, although Norfolk’s support of Catholicism was taken for granted.
On 10th June 1540 Cromwell was arrested in the council chamber; the French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac reported back to Paris;
‘The Duke of Norfolk reproached him [Cromwell] with various villainies which he had committed….and my said Lord [the king] has caused public proclamation that none should any more call him Lord Privy Seal….but only Thomas Cromwell, shearman.’[xii]
Cromwell was taken to the Tower and seven days later Norfolk and Gardiner introduced an Act of Attainder[xiii] against him.
The king still had need of his minister even now, to rid himself of Anne of Cleves. A series of councillors cross-questioned Cromwell in his place of incarceration, and Cromwell duly obliged his master one last time. Queen Anne was pensioned off with £500 per annum[xiv] and a property portfolio, some of which came from Cromwell’s forfeited estates. The marriage was annulled on 9th July. Following Cromwell’s execution on 28th July Henry sneered;
‘Now is the false churl dead, so ambitious of other’s blood. These new erected men would, by their wills, leave no noble man a life…..now he is stricken with his own staff.’[xv]
He was exceeding proud of his lineage dating back to Edward III and beyond; that a man like Cromwell had had the king’s support for so long had irked both Henry and his father.
Henry VIII’s Last Victim – Jessie Childs, Vintage Books 2008
The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009
House of Treason – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2009
Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1972
The Earlier Tudors – J D Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992
Rivals in Power – David Starkey, MacMillan London Ltd 1990
The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992
A Tudor Tragedy – Neville Williams, Barrie & Jenkins 1964
[i] An offence against the King’s Peace that normally resulted in the cutting off of the aggressor’s right (sword) hand
[ii] i.e. Cromwell and his ilk
[iii] Rivals in Power - Starkey
[iv] She was the only one of his wives granted a place beside Henry VIII in death
[v] The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune - Head
[vii] He named the house Mount Surrey
[viii] One of a pair of dour evangelicals suggested that that ‘proud foolish boy’ the Earl of Surrey should be one of the guarantors; clearly Henry already had a reputation amongst the common man
[ix] Thomas Cromwell’s nephew
[xi] The letters may very well have been faked by Norfolk’s agents
[xii] Rivals in Power - Starkey
[xiii] One of Cromwell’s own inventions
[xiv] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £290,500.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £2,796,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £10,650,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £135,500,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xv] House of Treason - Hutchinson