How Henry VIII Got Rid Of His Wives

We left the Ambassador Extraordinary of France, François de Scépeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville, and his companions at the court of Edward VI in early 1547 amazed at how English noblemen behaved towards their sovereign; they even knelt when serving the king meals. Vieilleville’s secretary, Vincent Carloix, who supposedly wrote down these memories later, then reported how the French guests were accosted by a mysterious English courtier who explained to them why these strange habits went unchallenged: Out of fear of the Duke of Somerset, the young king’s uncle, who has established a veritable tyranny over England. However, resistance is a-brewing …

I’ll now give you the rest of the English gentleman’s speech, first in the original French and then in translation. Secretary Carloix’ understanding of English history may appear somewhat garbled, yet it certainly shows how Henry VIII’s marital problems were perceived from a foreign (and Catholic) perspective not so long after the events:

car estants parens et creatures de feues roynes meres des infantes Marie et Elizabeth, ils crevent de deplaisir de voir l’usurpation que ce duc, par son authorité, a fait sur elles de la couronne, qui appartient premierement à Marie, et puis par son decès à Elizabeth ; se targuant du testament du feu Roy Henry, qu’il a basty à sa poste, auquel il ne s’est pas oublyé, car il s’y est trouvé le premier, après l’Empereur, de saeze tuteurs de ce jeune Roy ordonnez par son pere; mais les quinze luy ont bientost quitté toute la charge, les connoissant incompatible, ou bien par remords de conscience de la falsité de ce testament, et du tort que l’on faisoit à ses deux très-excellentes princesses.

After getting in trouble having married the emperor’s aunt, Henry VIII afterwards “only ever married the daughters of dukes and simple gentlewomen”

Car ledit feu roy Henry, qui estoit un prince voluptueux, et auquel un serail de femmes n’eust pas suffi, repudia la reine Catherine, mere de l’infante Marie, pour épouser Anne de Boulan, de l’aquelle il eust Elizabeth, les accusant fort iniquement toutes deux d’impudicité et d’adultere, sans pouvoir dire ny prouver, encore moins les convaincre du fait ; qu’il fit neantmois mourir la premiere entre quatre murailles, et l’autre sur un échafaut (car un roy n’a jamais faute de juges ny de temoins), pour épouser Janne Semer, sœur de ce duc, et mère du Roy que yous voyez, de laquelle il fust un an amoureux : en quoy elle se maintint si vertueusement, que la force d’amour contraignit ce Roy, n’en pouvant rien tirer que par [durch] mariage, de faire insignes meschancetez :

la premiere, de repudier ainsi à la vollée des princesses de bien et d’honneur, foulant leur reputation, et, contre sa conscience, leur ravir la vie pour épouser cellecy ; la seconde, de priver, contre tout droit divin et humain, ces deux rare princesses en toute vertu de leur vraye, legitime et naturelle succession, pour y préferer ce petit Roy que le gens de bien et d’esprit de ce royaume tiennet pour bastard ; et la troisieme, que, non voulant le Pape approuver ce fornicatoire mariage, il laissa sa religion ancienne et catholique pour adherer et suivre celle de Luther, par depit d’avoir esté debouté de sa demande, comme injuste, en plein consistoire des cardinaux; et s’oublia tant qu’il écrivit et fit publier un petit meschant livre contre ce très-sacré senat, perdant par cette folie un fort saint et honorable titre que ses predecesseurs et luy avoient entre les roys chrestiens; car vostre roy s’appelle Très-Chrestien, celuy d’Espagne Catholique, et le nostre se nommoit Protecteur de la foy. Et croyez que cestuy-cy ne rendra pas ce titre à sa posterité: car son pere le fit instruire et nourrir en ce nouvelle secte, en laquelle il persiste, et y est, par commandement du duc son oncle, entretenu.

Vous voyez donc, messieurs, par ce discours, que la paillardise de feu son pere le fit forvoyer en sa religion, de laquelle il n’eust jamais changé si le Pape luy eust accordé la dispense d’épouser Anne de Boulan : et s’il eust ausé faire mourir Catherine, il n’eust pas esté en la peine de faire la poursuite ; mais elle estoit tante de l’empereur Charles cinquieme. Aussi depuis ce refus il n’épousa jamais que des filles de ducs ou simple damoiselles, pour plus librement exercer sur leur honneur et sur leur vie sa detestable volonté ; et en épousa jusques à cinq depuis ladite Catherine, qu’il fit tout passer ou par la mort ou par la honte de repudiation, excepté Janne Semer, mere de ce Roy, qui mourat incontinant après en estre delivrée ; dont bien luy en print, car elle eust esté mise au rang des autres : encore dit-on qu’il la fit empoisonner pour épouser la quatrieme, qu’il repudia un an après ; et fit trancher la teste à la cinquieme, forcené de l’amour d’une vefve nommé Catherine Parre, à laquelle, s’il ne fust mort, il fasoit déjà faire le procès, la accusant faussement d’avoir conspiré à sa mort avec la princesse Marie sa fille : ne nous estant demeuré autre fruit de cette bruslante luxure; que l’usurpation de la couronne que vous voyez, je vous laissez à juger, messieurs, si ce royaume doit prosperer. »

Etat de la cour d’Angleterre

Lors l’un de nostres, nommé Vausurhosne, dit à ce gentilhomme anglais, qui s’appelloit Vartich, qu’il estoit fort esbahy qu’ayant tant de droit de leur costé, et la pluspart des millorts favorables qu’ils ne hazardoient une battaille, y et attirer le peuple par quelque menée secrette, s’assurant que s’il se presentoit quelque magnanime seigneur qui s’en voulust entremettre, il seroit suivy de tous les estats, « veu, millort Vartich, ce que vous nous venez de discourir, car Dieu ayde au bon droit. … «

Cela est très-certain, rèpondit Vartich : mais le duc de Sommerset, qui est un prince fort provide, y a prevenu merveilleusement, car il a osté à tous les grands de ce royaume tous les moyens de rien innover. Premierement il a donné l’estat d’amiral à son frere, qui est la principale force d’Angleterre ; le gouvernement d’Irlande à un autre parent qui luy est du tout voué …; et faut necessairement attendre ce coup de la main de Dieu, qui ne laissera pas regner long-temps cette tirannie sans faire rendre, par sa grande justice, ce que l’on à usurpé sur ces dignes princesses. … »

Cela dit, il print congé de nous et se retira, sans que jamais l’ayons pu trouver ny revoir depuis ; et les cherchasmes tant que nous fumes là, parce que nous le tenions pour fort habile homme, et qui avoit grande envie de remuer estaindre cette usurpation, et remettre sus la religion catholique.

Il sembla, à ce qui est advenu depuis, que ce Vartich estoit touché de l’esprit de prophetie ; car au commencement de l’année 1547 il nous tint ce langage, et sur la fin de l’année 1550 ce petit Roy mourut ; par la mort duquel la couronne revint à l’Infante Marie, qui fit mourir assez bon nombre de millorts qui avoient assisté et favorisé le couronnement de son feu frere.

(Mémoires de la vie de François de Scépeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville. Vol I. Edited by C. B. Petitot, 1822, pp. 155–160)

For they [the gentlemen who would like to cut the Duke of Somerset’s and the king’s throats] are creatures of the deceased queens, the mothers of the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, and they are bursting with displeasure to see the usurpation of this duke, his authority, and how he achieved it against the crown, which belongs first to Mary, and after her death to Elizabeth. He bases his claim on the last will of the deceased King Henry, who built him up in his office, which he never forgot as he found himself the first, after the emperor, of the tutors of this young king as his father ordained; thus, the fifteen [other executors of Henry VIII’s will] discharged him for good as incompatible or out of a bad conscience about this false testament and the wrong done to these two excellent princesses.

As the said King Henry deceased was a voluptuous prince to whom a seraglio of women did not suffice, he repudiated Queen Catherine, mother of the princess Mary, to marry Anne Boleyn, by whom he had Elizabeth: And he accused them both most iniquitously of impudicity and adultery, without being able to prove anything or convince anybody. He made the first die in prison and the other upon the scaffold (for a king is never in need of judges or witnesses) in order to marry Jane Seymour, sister of this duke and mother of the king you see. With her he had been in love for a year in which she maintained herself so virtuously that the power of love constrained this king to marry her, not having achieved anything, yet having committed several iniquities:

Princess Mary, repudiated, took revenge on those who “assisted and favoured the crowning of her deceased brother”

First, he repudiated the princesses and trampled upon their reputation, and, against his conscience, took a life in order to marry Jane; second, to deprive against every human and divine right these two rare princesses of their true, legitimate, and natural succession, he preferred this little king whom the good people of this realm hold for a bastard; third, as the pope did not approve this fornicatory marriage, he abandoned his ancient and catholic religion in order to adhere and follow the religion of Luther, for he was angry that his demand was rejected as injust by the full consistory of the cardinals; and he forgot himself so much that he wrote and published a malignant little book against this very holy senate – thereby losing through this folly a very holy and honourable title, which his predecessors and he himself had between the Christian kings; for your king is named the Most Christian King, the King of Spain His Catholic Majesty, and our king was named Defender of the Faith. And believe me, this title will not be bequeathed to posterity, for his father raised him in this new sect, in which he persists and is entertained by order of the duke his uncle.

You see, gentlemen, by this discourse how his father lit this fire in his religion, which he never would have changed had the pope accorded him the marriage of Anne Boleyn. And if he had not dared to put to death Katherine, he would not have bothered to do the rest; alas, she was the aunt of the Emperor Charles V. He therefore after this rebuff only ever married the daughters of dukes and simple gentlewomen in order to exercise more freely his detestable will over their honours and their lives. And he married up to five ladies after Katherine, whom he either killed or repudiated, with the exception of Jane Seymour, the mother of this king, who died in childbirth – which turned out well for her, for she would have been treated like the others. It is even said that he had her poisoned in order to marry the fourth, whom he repudiated after a year. And he beheaded the fifth, crazy of love for a widow named Katherine Parr; if she had not died, he would have accused her of conspiring against his life together with Mary his daughter. Thus in view of the only fruit of this burning wantonness – the usurpation which you see – I let you judge, gentlemen, if this realm should prosper.”

The State of the English Court

Now, one of us, named Vausurhosne, said to this English gentleman named Vartich that he was speechless that with so much right and so many millorts on their side they did not dare risk a battle instead of attracting people by secret plots, thinking that a great man would present himself who would like to take part, all the estates following him: “Look, my Lord Vartich, all you told us about the Lord may grant.” […] “That’s all very well,” answered Vartich, “but the Duke of Somerset is a cautious prince, for he has taken away all the means from all the great of this realm. First he gave the office of Admiral to his brother, which post is the principal mainstay of England. The government of Ireland he gave to another relative who is very devoted to him […]; we must needs wait for the Lord’s coup de main, who will not suffer this tyranny for long without, in his great justice, giving back what has been taken away from these worthy princesses.” […]

With this he took leave from us and retired, and we never could find or see him again; and we were looking for him all the time we were there, because we thought him a very clever man who very much wished to undo this usurpation and to re-institute the catholic religion.

It seemed by what happened afterwards that Vartich was touched by the spirit of prophecy; for at the beginning of the year 1547 he spoke to us and by the end of 1550 this little king died. By his death the crown reverted to the Princess Mary, who put to death a good number of millorts who had assisted and favoured the crowning of her deceased brother.

(Translation copyright © 2018 Christine Hartweg)

It is believed that Lord Vartich was none other than John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick and father of Robert Dudley …

coninued here

About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at www.allthingsrobertdudley.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Edward VI, Elizabeth I, John Dudley, religion, sources & historians and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.