Authors: David Starkey
These attitudes were closely associated with Erasmus’s stylistic reforms. But he himself developed them sequentially, not simultaneously, and it always remained possible to separate the two, so that, for example, both the cases for and against the reform of the church could be (and were) argued in Latin that was Erasmian in form, however unErasmian it might be in spirit.
And if Erasmus himself was not yet Erasmian, nor perforce were the other members of the circle. Thomas More became Erasmian at roughly the same time as Erasmus himself (say by about 1513), and was a principal influence on Erasmus’s own development.
But in the last decade of Henry VII’s reign More’s values too seem to have belonged to an earlier world.
The nature of that world is best explored through the central member of the group, Lord Mountjoy. He was not, nor ever became, Erasmian. Despite his pupilage, his close and continuing friendship with Erasmus, his sustained patronage of his old teacher and his substantial technical mastery of ‘Erasmian’ Latin, Mountjoy remained at home in the values of his class and society – values which both More and Erasmus came to challenge frontally.
The reason, probably, is social. Mountjoy was a gentleman before he was a scholar, and fought more naturally with the sword than with the pen. This is shown by the simplest analysis of his biography. Intellectual leanings he may have had, but he remained true to his family’s military and courtly traditions: he held office in Calais; fought the French and captained Tournai, Henry VIII’s short-lived trophy conquest in France; he also succeeded his stepfather Ormond as queen’s lord chamberlain.
And Henry’s trajectory, it is clear, was much nearer to Mountjoy’s than More’s. Nevertheless, his Latin teachers did their work well:
To have educated Henry VIII, the first self-consciously latinate king for over three hundred years, was itself no mean achievement. And if Henry had not been a latinate king, would his monarchy and the Henrician Reformation have developed in the ways that they did?
Would they indeed have happened at all?
CPR Henry VII
II, 319, 322, 325, 327, 343; TNA: LC 2/1/1/, fos. 73–4.
. Carlson, ‘Royal Tutors’, 255–6.
. Ibid., 267, 270.
. N. Orme, ‘John Holt (d. 1504), Tudor Schoolmaster and Grammarian’, in
, 6th s. 18 (1996), 283–305.
. F. M. Nichols,
The Hall of Lawford Hall
(1891), 216, n. 373. Nichols, occasionally corrected by GEC, gives a full account of William, Lord Mountjoy and his family.
. Carlson, ‘Royal Tutors’, 272–3.
, 216, 223.
. Ibid., 196.
. See above, pp. 122–23.
. H. L. R. Edwards,
(1949), 131–2 and 310 notes.
, ‘Duwes’; John Palsgrave,
(1530), ‘The Authours Epistell to the kynges grace’.
, ‘Duwes’; S. Anglo, ‘The Court Festivals of Henry VII’, in
Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
43 (1960–61), 12–45, p. 33; TNA: LC 2/1/1/, fo. 73v. A. Ashbee,
Records of English Court Music
, 9 vols (Aldershot, 1986–) VII (1485–1558), 20.
. Orme, ‘John Holt’, 303.
ENRY’S TWENTY-FOUR MONTHS
of betwixt and between ended in 1504. He was created prince of Wales, he was married and as quickly unmarried, he went to court, and he began to make his first impression on the political nation. There is no sign that it was particularly favourable.
Parliament – incidentally the last of Henry VII’s reign – met on 15 January 1504. One of its first acts was formally to strip Henry of his title of duke of York and all the estates that had gone with it. Instead, on 23 February he was created prince of Wales. The heralds received their usual fee for proclaiming his new style, and, as was customary, knights of the Bath were dubbed.
Otherwise, nothing is known of the event.
Henry’s creation as prince of Wales was followed by a much bigger change. The authority of the last commission
to purvey for his household expired on 20 July 1504.
A few weeks earlier Henry had joined his father at Richmond. He was left behind when Henry VII went to Westminster for a meeting of the council on 9 July. But the prince rejoined the king at Greenwich at the end of the month, and accompanied him on the summer progress into Kent and Sussex.
A threshold had been crossed. Henry had celebrated his birthday on 28 June. He was now in his fourteenth year – the age of maturity for a royal prince. For his elder brother Arthur his fourteenth year had seen the despatch of his bride-to-be to England; for Henry it marked his move to court – his father’s court.
The Spanish ambassador was quick to notice the change. On 10 August he wrote home: ‘The prince of Wales is with the king. Formerly the king did not like to take the prince of Wales with him, in order not to interrupt his studies.’ The king, who was an accomplished ham actor, had put up an impressive display of paternal affection. ‘It is quite wonderful,’ the ambassador gushed, ‘how much the king likes the prince of Wales.’ ‘He has good reason too,’ he added, ‘for the prince deserves all love.’
It would be more interesting to know how much, if at all, Henry liked his father. For the king, unlike his ebullient second son, was not an immediately likeable man.
Heredity and harsh experience had seen to that. In 1504 Henry’s father was still only forty-seven. But he looked much older. The turning point seems to have come five years
previously, in 1499, as he was screwing up his resolve to execute Warbeck and Warwick. ‘Henry [VII],’ the Spanish ambassador noted, ‘has aged so much during the last two weeks that he seems to be twenty years older.’
Then had followed the still greater traumas of the deaths, in quick succession, of his elder son and his wife.
The signs are plain in Michiel Sittow’s portrait of the king, painted in 1505. He still holds himself upright, with the remains of the athletic strength noticed by Polydore Vergil: ‘his body was slender, but well built and strong; his height above average’. But in the face the slimness is turning to emaciation: the flesh falls away from his cheekbones and shrinks round his jaw. The lips are also tightly pinched together. This is probably because he is trying to conceal the fact that – as Vergil again noted – ‘his teeth were few, poor and blackish’.
As the rest of the face shrinks, the nose, which is long and somewhat hooked, looms large and questioning. But it is the eyes which really strike. Polydore describes them as ‘small and blue’. Here they are hooded, like his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort’s; there also seems to be a cast or squint (though the irregularity could simply be the result of painterly incompetence).
Sittow’s is, in short, the face of the Henry VII of legend: shrewd, suspicious, and above all mean. But there was another Henry, which Polydore also knew. The face would light up and the words would flow. Then, says Polydore, ‘his appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was
cheerful, especially when speaking’. And what words! His eloquence was Welsh, or even French, in its extravagance. Sometimes it had the obvious insincerity of diplomatic hyperbole. But equally this was the king who could arouse passionate loyalty – so passionate that it could endure even rebuff and reproof.
This was also the king who ‘knew well how to maintain his royal majesty and all which appertains to kingship in every time and in every place’.
This is, in short, the king who, despite all the probable tensions and even antipathies between them, was recognizably Henry’s father.
And when he summoned Prince Henry to court in 1504 it was to play the father in deed: to train and mould his son into his future role as king. That at least was the view of the Spanish ambassador:
But it is not only from love that the king takes the prince with him; he wishes to improve him. Certainly there could be no better school in the world than the society of such a father as Henry VII. He is so wise and so attentive to everything; nothing escapes his attention. There is no doubt the prince has an excellent governor and steward in his father. If he lives ten years longer he will leave the prince furnished with good habits, and with immense riches, and in as happy circumstances as man can be.
As it happened, Henry VII had less than half that span allotted to him. But that was not the only reason that the results of his training of his son were more mixed than the ambassador’s hyperbolic forecast. Nevertheless, and this is what matters here, it is clear that the attempt was made. Henry was not to come to the throne untrained and untested, as the conventional wisdom assumes; instead he was more conscientiously prepared for kingship than most of his predecessors.
Above all, his father had decided to train him
from Arthur. Arthur had been sent away, to learn to rule experimentally, as it were, by governing his own principality and the Welsh Marches; Henry was to be kept by his father’s side to learn by imitation and example.
The first and central step was thus his presence at court, where he now shadowed his father in public and in private. In 1505, for example, the Garter celebrations were unusual in both splendour and publicity. They were held in St Paul’s Cathedral, which was turned into a vast chapel royal for the occasion. On St George’s Eve, the king and his knights heard evensong; on St George’s Day itself, they went in procession in their robes, with a relic of the saint’s leg – newly sent by Maximilian, king of the Romans – borne in front of them in its case of parcel-gilt silver.
The prince walked in the procession immediately after his father, and he was in turn to become a most attentive sovereign of the order.
Henry was also at his father’s side in July 1506 at Richmond. At about 11 o’clock one evening the king and the prince had taken a late summer’s night stroll in a newly built gallery near the king’s bedroom; less than an hour later, at about midnight, the gallery ‘fell suddenly’. Miraculously, bearing in mind its position at the heart of the palace, no one was hurt. ‘But the master carpenter that framed it was punished by imprisonment many days after.’
But the greatest difference with Arthur was in the matter of marriage. Arthur had been married and bedded as quickly as possible – with, some were convinced, fatal consequences. Henry VII was not to make that mistake again, even though his surviving son’s destined bride was also to be Catherine of Aragon.
As soon as was decent after Prince Arthur’s death (indeed rather before), negotiations had begun for another English marriage for Catherine of Aragon. In the interim, Queen Elizabeth of York had died, and Henry VII’s first thought was that he should marry Catherine himself. Isabella reacted with horror; it was ‘a very evil thing – one never before seen, the mere mention of which offends the ears’.
In the face of this reaction, Henry VII looked elsewhere for a bride for himself, and instead opened discussions on marrying Catherine to his second son, Prince Henry. At first everything proceeded smoothly: the marriage treaty was signed on 23 June 1503, and two days later the couple were betrothed with some ceremony at the town palace of the
bishop of Salisbury, which lay on the south side of Fleet Street, next to St Bride’s.
But of course Catherine’s first marriage, whether or not it had been consummated, established close ties of ‘affinity’ – or relationship by marriage – between her and Henry. This meant that their marriage could only take place if the affinity were ‘dispensed with’ or legally set aside by the pope. The treaty specified that both England and Spain would use their influence with Rome to obtain the dispensation, after which the couple would undergo a preliminary form of marriage. The solemnization of matrimony proper was to take place before Henry’s fifteenth birthday.
Here again all began well. On 6 July 1504 the pope indicated his willingness to grant the dispensation, and Henry VII decided to proceed immediately. The couple were formally married at some time in the late summer or autumn – though the ‘very solemn’ ceremony which the king promised seems to have left no mark in the records.
The dispensation reached Isabella in November 1504. But on the twenty-sixth she was dead.
All now threatened to unravel. For Catherine the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon was a much less attractive proposition as a daughter-in-law than Catherine the daughter of the Catholic kings of Spain.
This was because Isabella’s heir in law as sovereign of Castile was not her husband, Ferdinand, but her eldest surviving daughter, Juana, who was married to the Arch
duke Philip of Burgundy. It was now an open question as to who would succeed in Castile: Ferdinand by the fact of possession, or Philip in legal right of his wife.
Henry VII decided to sit out the forthcoming struggle and disengage his son from the Spanish marriage. On 27 June 1505, the eve of his fourteenth birthday, Prince Henry duly repudiated – as he was entitled to – the marriage he had entered into as a boy. His real feelings about the matter are unknown. The guess must be that he had agreed to marry Catherine because his father told him to, and that he reneged on his promise for the same reason. It was the last time that he was to be so meekly obedient in matrimony.
The other person most interested in the matter, Catherine of Aragon, was not even informed that her marriage had been repudiated; instead the intention seems to have been to hold Henry’s ‘protestation’, as it was called, as a reserve weapon.
At the same time, Henry VII also turned the financial screws on Catherine. Only the first half of her dowry had been paid before Arthur’s death, which meant that she was not entitled to her dower income as princess. In its absence she was wholly dependent on the English king for funds to maintain her substantial household at Durham House.
In late 1505 Henry VII cut them off. He suggested that it would be much more sensible for Catherine to economize by living at court, rather than maintaining her own household. So to court Catherine came as well.
There her position was intensely difficult. She was widow of one prince of Wales, and bride-to-be (or perhaps not-to-be) of another. But she was rarely allowed to see Henry, much less to live with him. For Catherine of Aragon, proud of her royalty and convinced as she was, and was always to be, of her wedded state, it was humiliating beyond measure. For Henry VII it was the perfect arrangement, as he told her himself. ‘He regards me,’ she reported, ‘as bound and his son as free. [Prince Henry] is not so old that delay is disagreeable.’
‘Thus mine,’ Catherine concluded miserably, ‘is always the worst part.’
In retrospect, the tragi-comedy of Henry’s on-off marriage to Catherine of Aragon looks like the dominant event of these years. At the time, however, as Henry VII’s coolly cynical behaviour shows, it was the merest sideshow.
Instead, as always, Henry VII’s principal concern was security – and increasingly for his heir, Henry, as much as for himself. For on Henry now depended the whole future of his father’s achievement: everything that he had fought for, prayed for and lied for; the hundreds he had sent to the scaffold, the thousands he had had killed in battle and the millions of money he had extorted – at God alone knows at what cost to his immortal soul – from his subjects. All this would be in vain if his son did not succeed to the crown – that heavy, bejewelled crown that Henry VII had commissioned in 1487 to celebrate his victory at Stoke over the first pretender to challenge him.
* * *
And all this too was realized by the latest and in some ways the most dangerous pretender of the reign, Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk. Suffolk, now in exile at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) on the borders of the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire, was following events in England with an émigré’s feverish attention. He rejoiced at the news of Arthur’s death, and a month later, on 12 May 1502, instructed his agent at Maximilian’s court to set out its consequences to his patron, the king of the Romans. Everything, he was to explain, now hung on Henry’s life.