Authors: David Starkey
But that was later, much later. At the time, the fact of intercourse was simply taken for granted: ‘and thus,’ the recording herald wrote in his florid prose, ‘these worthy persons concluded and consummate the effect and complement of the sacrament of matrimony.’
After a day’s rest the royal party went in state by water to Westminster for a further round of jousting, revelling and feasting. This started on Thursday, 18 November and continued for a week. Once again Henry had a starring role – or rather made one for himself.
On the Friday night the king put on an entertainment in Westminster Hall. The walls were bright with tapestry, and a vast cupboard seven shelves high groaned with gold and
silver-gilt plate. After the entertainment was over, the dancing began. Arthur led out Lady Cecily, Elizabeth of York’s eldest sister; then Catherine and one of her ladies, both in Spanish costume, performed; and finally it was the turn of Henry to dance with his elder sister Margaret. He led her out by the hand and they executed their two allotted dances, which were ‘bass’ or slow steps.
But now Henry stepped out of the script. Finding that his heavy clothes got in the way of his fun, he ‘suddenly cast off his gown’ – which had been obtained at such expense – and ‘danced in his jacket’ with his sister. His parents looked on proudly and indulgently.
Henry was learning early that he could break the rules.
His example of uninhibited dancing was also infectious, and the poor folk who crowded into the hall had a field day snapping up the ‘plates, spangles, roses and other conceits of silver and over gilt which fell from their garments both of lords and ladies and gentlemen whilst they leapt and danced’.
On Friday, 26 November the court travelled to Richmond, as the rebuilt Sheen was now known, by water.
It was like a scene from a northern Venice. The gaily dressed throng embarked at the ‘bridge’ or landing stage at Westminster Palace. This was ‘made of timber, beset with goodly posts, with lions and dragons, and other figures and beasts and figures empainted, carven and gilt, set upon their heights and tops’. In front of it, a water-borne procession of
some sixty ‘right goodly covered, painted and beseen’ barges formed up in order on the river. Among the flotilla, ‘the duke of York’s’ barge stood out – though Henry himself, as part of his father’s immediate suite, was not in it. Instead, he travelled with the king in the royal barge, leaving his own to bring his servants and attendants. When he arrived at Richmond he also found that he had his own suite of specially built rooms, alongside those of his father, mother, grandmother and elder brother and sister-in-law.
At Richmond the round of entertainment continued, with hunting in the park and tours of the lavishly rebuilt palace, conducted by the king himself. But there was also serious business to be done.
The issue was the status of Arthur and Catherine’s marriage. Should they continue to reside at court, each in their own separate suite? Or should they take up residence at Arthur’s princely capital of Ludlow, there to live as man and wife? The former had been the original intention. But that had been based on the assumption that they would be marrying when Arthur was barely fourteen. In the event, the delays in Catherine’s departure from Spain meant that he was a good year older.
And that, it was decided after some soul-searching, was quite old enough to begin proper married life. So to Ludlow they went, leaving Richmond a few days before Christmas and spending the feast itself at Woodstock.
Henry never saw his brother again.
. J. G. Nichols,
The Chronicle of Calais
, CS old series 35 (1846), 3–4, 49–51.
. W. Busch,
England under the Tudors: I Henry VII
(1895), 363–4, rejects the idea that the visit to Calais was provoked by the sweating sickness on the ground that the disease did not break out till the summer.
. TNA: E 1011415/3, fos. 25, 28, 29v.
. I, 282.
. I, 280.
. I, 213.
. Beaufort Hours, 279.
. E. F. Rogers, ed.,
Thomas More: Selected Letters
(New Haven and London, 1961), 2–3.
UEBLA HAD SPOKEN TOO SOON
when he gloated in January 1500 that not ‘a drop of doubtful Royal blood’ remained in England.
Warbeck and Warwick might indeed be dead, but within two years another pretender had arisen to replace them: Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk.
Just as Henry’s childhood had been overshadowed by Warbeck, so his youth was to be equally affected by Suffolk. Suffolk indeed probably touched him more keenly: Perkin was an impostor and a puppet; but Suffolk was the real Yorkist thing. As son of John de la Pole, second duke of Suffolk, and Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister of Henry’s maternal grandfather, Edward IV, Suffolk descended – unimpeachably – from the main Yorkist line. His royal blood meant that
he was one of Henry’s closest living relations, and a familiar figure at his parents’ court. Henry had even been conceived under Duke John’s roof, at his palatial house at Ewelme in Oxfordshire, where Henry’s parents had spent a long, lazy month in the late autumn of 1490.
But what probably made the most impression on Henry was the fact that Suffolk was the star jouster of the English court. As such, he had played a prominent part in the tournaments to celebrate Henry’s own creation as duke of York. He was the first of the four ‘noblemen and … gentlemen’ of the king’s court who had issued the challenge for the joust; he had worn Henry’s own colours of tawney and blue; and on the second day of the tournament he had been awarded the prize of ‘a ring of gold with a diamond’.
Even more characteristic was Suffolk’s performance on the third and final day in the tourney, or sword-fight on horseback, when his encounter with Sir Edward Burgh had all the excitement of a heavyweight boxing match. First ‘the earl gave such a stroke’ to his opponent that he almost knocked his sword ‘out of his hand and bruised his gauntlet’. Burgh tried to change his sword to his bridle hand, but lost control of his horse during the manoeuvre. The horse turned away from Suffolk, and many thought that Burgh’s hand had been ‘stonied’ or paralysed. But then Burgh regained both his hold on his sword and control of his horse, and hit Suffolk ‘a light stroke’ over the head. This unexpected, insolent tap enraged Suffolk, and ‘the earl
would furiously go against’ his opponent until they were forcibly separated.
Henry, we can imagine, watched enthralled.
Nor was Suffolk’s brawling temperament confined to the tilt-yard. According to Polydore Vergil, he was ‘bold, impetuous and readily roused to anger’. This, it should be said in Suffolk’s defence, was a pretty typical disposition for a young nobleman, especially one as highly born as he – which is why he was so popular among members of his own order.
Nevertheless, his character was singularly unsuited to the awkward circumstances in which he and his family found themselves. We have already seen something of these. Suffolk’s eldest brother John, earl of Lincoln, had played a leading part in the first Yorkist rebellion against Henry VII in 1487, when he was killed at the battle of Stoke and attainted as a traitor. But the full consequences were only visited on the remainder of the family after the death of Duke John in 1492. Duke John had settled much of his property on Lincoln as his eldest son in his own lifetime. Lincoln’s attainder meant that this was forfeit to the crown. Which meant in turn that when Suffolk inherited as the next surviving brother, the reduced family estate was not sufficient to maintain a dukedom.
Instead, when Suffolk came of age the following year, Henry VII imposed a compromise: Suffolk agreed to accept the lesser title of earl; in return he was allowed to reclaim
some of Lincoln’s estates, though subject to a fine of
5,000, payable in yearly instalments of
The compromise was characteristically harsh but fair. It was also very similar in spirit to the settlement imposed on Surrey after the Howards’ near-disastrous error in supporting Richard III. Surrey, with his coldly ambitious temperament, accepted the arrangement and used it to rebuild his fortunes. At first it seemed as though Earl Edmund would follow the same route, and for the next five years he was a prominent figure at court, in the lists and on the battlefield. He was also particularly close to his first cousin, Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York.
But, as we have seen, he had inherited more than his fair share of the Plantagenet temper. For such a personality the compact of 1493, with its double blow to his prestige and his purse, rankled deeply. And it was his temper which brought things to a head. He committed a murder, and was indicted in the court of King’s Bench for the crime. The matter was smoothed over. But not Suffolk’s ruffled feelings. In July 1499 he decamped first to Guisnes, one of the flanking fortresses of Calais, and thence to St Omer, in the Netherlands. There, like so many Yorkist agitators before him, he hoped to get help from his aunt, the Dowager Duchess Margaret.
The appeal for Burgundian assistance was ominous. But a combination of diplomatic pressure on the Archduke Philip and fair words from a high-level delegation, led by Suffolk’s
friend Sir Richard Guildford, secured his return. Once again there was both stick and carrot: Suffolk was fined another
1,000, but he was also restored to favour and the heart of the royal family. On 5 May 1500, when the court was at Canterbury en route to the Calais meeting with the Archduke Philip, Suffolk witnessed the final ratification of the treaty for the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Henry’s elder brother Arthur, and he joined Henry’s parents at the Calais meeting itself.
Indeed, in his role as star jouster, he was destined to play a key part in it. The forthcoming marriage of Arthur and Catherine would set the seal on the arrival of the Tudors as one of the premier dynasties of Europe, and Henry’s father was determined to celebrate it in style. At the heart of the celebrations was to be a tournament, which was planned as an international event of a type that had not been seen in England since the days of Edward IV.
The meeting between Henry VII and the Archduke Philip provided the perfect opportunity to launch the event. At the head of Philip’s train was Antoine, the
(‘great bastard’) of Burgundy (1421–1502). He had been the Burgundian champion in the last great Anglo–Burgundian tournament held in 1467, and the intervening decades had only reinforced his authority as an arbiter of chivalry. Jousters were equally prominent in Henry VII’s entourage, which included, as well as Suffolk, the duke of Buckingham, the earl of Essex, Lord Harrington, Lord William Courtenay and Sir John Peche.
While the king and the archduke discussed politics, it seems pretty safe to assume that their courtiers talked about the finer points of the tilt. The results of their deliberations were incorporated into the challenge for the wedding joust, which was issued in Calais and widely distributed. A copy in French was sent to the king of France. The Spanish ambassador got sight of this, copied it and sent it to Spain. Versions in English were also sent to the king of Scots and given to the archduke. The challenge was issued in the name of Suffolk, as the chief challenger, and five others: Essex, Harrington, Courtenay, Peche and Sir Guillaume de la Riviere, all six of whom were present in person.
Those answering the challenge were to write their name on specially prepared lists; they were also to supply a shield of their arms to be hung on a tree of arms at Westminster. In keeping with the international tone of the event, special arrangements were made to facilitate the participation of ‘gentlemen strangers of whatever nation it be’.
All of this looked back to the high noon of Anglo– Burgundian chivalry under Edward IV: the tree of arms was taken from the spectacular tournament, known as the Golden Tree, which the grand bastard had organized in 1468 for the wedding of Margaret of York and Charles the Bold, while the rules of combat were copied from the regulations for tournaments drawn up by the earl of Worcester, constable to Edward IV.
* * *
But the splendour of the revival of Yorkist chivalry was suddenly dimmed by the reality of Yorkist politics. For in August 1501, just over a year after his return from the Calais meeting, Suffolk fled abroad once more with his second brother, Richard, to seek refuge with Maximilian, Philip’s father and king of the Romans, in the Tyrol.
Suffolk’s mind had been made up by the report he had received from Sir Robert Curzon, Suffolk’s fellow challenger in the joust for Henry’s creation in 1494. Curzon had been licensed by Henry VII to join Maximilian’s service to fight the Turks. But it turned out that his enemy was as much Henry Tudor as the Infidel. He told Maximilian of Henry’s ‘murders and tyrannies’ on the one hand, and Suffolk’s ‘propos’ to recover his rights on the other. Maximilian answered sympathetically: if he might have ‘one of King Edward’s blood in his hands he would help him to recover the crown of England and be revenged’ on Henry.
Throughout Curzon’s report, Henry VII is referred to as ‘H’. It is the language of the spy throughout the ages. Later on, Curzon was ‘turned’ and became a double agent. Or he might have been one all along.
The timing of Suffolk’s flight, with Catherine of Aragon already on her way to England, caused exquisite embarrassment and forced a hasty rejigging of the personnel of the marriage joust. It also threatened to bring about the final
of the house of York; even, perhaps, to
transform Henry’s own destiny in life from that of a royal duke into a prince of the church.
For Suffolk was at the centre of a close-knit web of family connexions. This was brought uncomfortably into the limelight by his movements in the days before his flight. He ‘banquetted privily’ in London with Lord Harrington (soon to succeed his father as marquess of Dorset), the earl of Essex and Lord William Courtenay. A ‘banquet’ was an entertainment at which sweetmeats, fruits and wines were served. It was elegant, fashionable and light: the perfect background for innocent conversation, or, equally, the quick, whispered words of conspiracy. Heavier fare would have been on offer when Suffolk dined with the earl of Devon, Lord William’s father, in his house in Warwick Lane, which ran between Paternoster Row and Newgate Street, just to the north-west of St Paul’s. Devon had come to the ‘outer gate’ to receive him – a gesture of unusual politeness which had set tongues wagging.
All this might mean something – or nothing. Suffolk himself hotly denied that any of his table companions had been forewarned of his flight. Others certainly knew of it, however. William Hussey was consulted by someone who was considering joining Suffolk. He advised him to see an astrologer to determine Suffolk’s chance of success. William Hussey also belonged to the smart set at court: he was son of Sir John Hussey, the brother-in-law of the earl of Kent, who in turn was half-brother to the earl of Essex through their mother, Anne Woodville.
* * *
This, as far as Henry VII was concerned, was the problem: Suffolk’s circle of intimates looked like a Yorkist family convention: Dorset was Queen Elizabeth of York’s nephew, Essex was her first cousin and William Courtenay her brother-in-law. They banqueted and dined together. They fought together in the tournament.
Would they also fight together against the upstart Tudors?
In these circumstances the king as usual struck first, and most of the surviving males of the house of York were rounded up and charged with participating in Suffolk’s treason. William Courtenay and William de la Pole, Suffolk’s youngest brother, were arrested in February 1502 and sent to the Tower. De la Pole was to die there almost forty years later, and it looked as though Courtenay’s fate would be the same – or worse. His wife and children were taken into the queen’s protection (if indeed she had not been looking after them before), and Courtenay himself was attainted in 1504.
For the time being Thomas Grey, marquess of Dorset, the biggest fish apart from Suffolk himself to fall under suspicion, kept his freedom and his dignities. He acted as the king’s lieutenant (or deputy) at the Garter feast at Windsor, and preened himself, magnificently dressed and mounted, in the reception of foreign visitors. But these were the flowers strewing the abyss, and in 1506 he too was sent to the Tower. The following year Dorset and his fellow Yorkist prisoner, Courtenay, were despatched under escort across the Channel
and re-imprisoned in the castle of Calais on 18 October 1507. There, according to the chronicler of Calais, ‘they were kept prisoners … as long as King Henry the Seventh lived, and should have been put to death, if he had lived longer’.
Where did all this leave Henry? Dorset and Courtenay were indeed ‘both of kin to … Queen Elizabeth and of her blood’, as the chronicler of Calais described them. So, and most of all, was Henry. He even bore the title of duke of York.
I am not suggesting that Henry VII’s suspicions about Yorkist conspiracy, even at their darkest and most universal, extended to his second son. But it may be that this last spasm of Yorkist sentiment does help explain his father’s apparently contradictory intentions for the boy.