One year in Henry VIII’s life: 1536



Katherine of Aragon died on 7th January, at Kimbolton House, possibly as a result of coronary thrombosis. She was buried quietly at Peterborough Abbey. During her final illness she remained forbidden from personal contact with her daughter Mary.On 24th January, Henry fell heavily in the tiltyard at Greenwich and lay unconscious for about two hours. The shock caused Anne to miscarry five days later, reportedly male foetus.

Catherine pleading her case against divorce from Henry. Painting by Henry Nelson O'Neil

Catherine pleading her case against divorce from Henry. Painting by Henry Nelson O’Neil

In late January, rumours circulated at court that Henry was attracted to Jane Seymour, one of Queen Anne’s ladies in waiting. These rumours gained credibility when on 18th April Henry moved her brother, Edward Seymour, into rooms at Greenwich, where the king could meet Jane undetected.

In March, Parliament debated the fate of the religious houses and passed a law dissolving the smaller monasteries (defines as those with a gross income of less than £200 per annum).

Ruins of the monastery

Ruins of the monastery

On 30th April a royal musician, Mark Smeaton, was arrested. Under interrogation (and possibly torture) he confessed to adultery with queen Anne. Henry learned this news while attending the May Day tournament at Greenwich with Anne. Leaving hurriedly, he took with him Henry Norris, the groom of the stool who was in charge of the royal privy purse, and Norris too was then accused of the same offence. On 2nd May, Anne was arrested with her brother, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford. They were charged with incest and plotting to murder the king. That week, four other courtiers were arrested for adultery with the queen. Two were released, but Francis Weston and William Brereton were tried Norris on 12th May and convicted. The Imperial Ambassador, no friend to Anne, thought they ‘were sentenced on mere presumption or on very slight grounds, without legal proof or valid confession’.

Anne Boleyn In The Tower Framed Print by Edouard Cibot

Anne Boleyn In The Tower Framed Print by Edouard Cibot

On 15th May, Anne and Rochford were tried in the Tower before a crowd of some 2000 people. Anne made ‘wise discreet answers to all things laid against her’,but she and her brother were nontheless found guilty. In a limited act of mercy, Henry commuted their sentence to decapitation instead of burning (the punishment for incest). He also arranged for a skilled French executioner to use a sword rather than an axe on Anne. On 17th May, Anne’s marriage to Henry was declared invalid, and her alleged lovers were beheaded. Two days later, Anne herself was executed.

Anne Boleyns execution by Jan Luyken, c.1664-1712

Anne Boleyns execution by Jan Luyken, c.1664-1712

The next morning, Henry was secretly betrothed to Jane Seymour. Their private wedding took place on 30th May at Whitehall, and on 4th June (Whitsunday) Jane was proclaimed queen. Three ddays later she went by barge from Greenwich to Westminster to the sounds of guns fired from ships on the Thames.

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour

The Parliament that opened on 8th June excluded Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth, from the succession. This parliamentary session was also notable for passing a statute that absorbed Wales into England. The principality and Marcher lordships were now to be organized in counties administrated by justices of the peace and subject to English law.

On 22nd June, under severe pressure, Princess Mary formally accepted the royal supremacy and the invalidity of her parents’ marriage. Henry now forgave Mary her earlier disobedience and restored her to favour.

Young Mary Tudor

Young Mary Tudor

In July, after acrimonious debate, convocation issued Ten Articles of Religion. They were reformist but not Lutheran in character, as they did not embrace the theology of ‘justification by faith alone’. This doctrine asserted that individual salvation resulted from faith alone and could not be earned by acts of piety. In August, Cromwell issued injunctions to enforce the Ten Articles and implement additional reforms in the parishes. These injunctions called for the placing of a Bible in every church, attacked ‘superstitious’ images and the cult of saints, and abrogated certain holy days.

Portrait of Henry, Jane and their son Edward painted post-humously by Hans Holbein

Portrait of Henry, Jane and their son Edward painted post-humously by Hans Holbein

During September, clerics in the North of England preached against government policy. On 1st October the Vicar of Louth, in Lincolnshire, delivered a Sunday sermon urging his parishioners to resist royal commissioners who, he (wrongly) claimed, intended to confiscate all the ornaments in their parish churches. Within days, organized protests spread throughout the county, and articles of grievance were drawn up. This movement collapsed after the king declared the participants to be traitors.

Cliffords Tower, the scene of Aske's execution in 1537

Cliffords Tower, the scene of Aske’s execution in 1537

The momentum of protests then move to Yorkshire. A local lawyer, Robert Aske, mustered about 10,000 men and led an army into York. The participants called their insurrection the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’. From York the pilgrims marched towards Pontefract Castle, which Lord Thomas Darcy (who had grown weary of the ‘king’s proceedings’) obligingly surrendered after a short siege on 20th October before joining the leadership of the Pilgrimage. By this time, the rebel force contained about 30,000 men from six northern counties and was advancing south.

Military Costume in the time of Henry VIII

Military Costume in the time of Henry VIII

An underpowered royal army under the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Shrewsbury confronted the rebels at Doncaster. Neither side relished a fight. The royal army was heavily outnumbered, while Aske’s men wanted their grievances redressed rather than civil war. Talks therefore began on 26th October, and a truce was agreed. On 3rd December the Pilgrims drew up articles listing specific grievances and goals. While most called for a reversal of Henry’s religious and political innovations, some related to local economic problems. Norfolk accepted the articles and promised a general pardon. Aske went to Henry’s court, expecting to advise the king on the future government of the North.

Text by Susan Doran, “The Tudor Chronicles, 1485 – 1603”

 

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