March 31, 1536 – A Far-Reaching Conversation

Chapuys speaking to James Frain’s Cromwell (from Showtimes’ The Tudors)

On April 1, Eustace Chapuys wrote a long, newsy letter to Charles V reporting what was going on at the English court. The most interesting bit recounted a conversation he’d had with Thomas Cromwell the day before (which is why I’m posting this today).

A bit of context before I reveal the letter: shortly before taking the first clear steps towards the destruction of Anne Boleyn, Cromwell made overtures to Spain. And these overtures were facilitated by the relationship he had with Chapuys – one in which the two faithful servants were able to balance personal friendships with political differences to the advantage of both.

This was an iconic conversation, emblematic of the intrigue and deceit of the Tudor court – and giving a major clue as to what is to happen. Chapuys starts hinting about the possibility of a new Queen – and while Cromwell responds that the King will remain in his present marriage, he says it in a way designed to let Chapuys know he is lying. And he reassures Chapuys on the most important point – if the King did marry again it would not be a French princess. Based on this conversation, the two men understood that they were in agreement, and that England and Spain would soon be close again as soon as Anne Boleyn presented no impediment to friendship. The only thing missing was how this would happen…

I told Cromwell that I had for some time forborne to visit him that he might not incur suspicion of his mistress for the talk he had previously held with me, well remembering that he had previously told me she would like to see his head cut off. This I could not forget for the love I bore him; and I could not but wish him a more gracious mistress, and one more grateful for the inestimable services he had done the King, and that he must beware of enraging her, else he must never expect perfect reconciliation; in which case I hoped he would see to it better than did the Cardinal, as I had great belief in his dexterity and prudence; and if it was true, what I had heard, that the King was treating for a new marriage, it would be the way to avoid much evil, and be very much for the advantage of his master, who had been hitherto disappointed of male issue, and who knows quite well, several reasons which he might sufficiently understand; and that although a more lawful marriage should follow, and male issue from it would be to the prejudice of the Princess, yet the affection I bore to the honor and tranquility of the King and kingdom, and towards him particularly, made me desire another mistress, not for hatred that I bore to this one, who had never done me any harm. Cromwell appeared to take all this in good part, and said that it was only now that he had known the frailty of human affairs, especially of those of the Court, of which he had before his eyes several examples that might be called domestic, and he always laid his account that if fate fell upon him as upon his predecessors he would arm himself with patience, and leave the rest to God; and that it was quite true, as I said, that he must rely upon God’s help not to fall into mischief. He then began to defend himself, saying he had never been cause of this marriage, although, seeing the King determined upon it, he had smoothed the way, and that notwithstanding that the King was still inclined to pay attention to ladies, yet he believed he would henceforth live honorably and chastely, continuing in his marriage. This he said so coldly as to make me suspect the contrary, especially as he said so, not knowing what countenance to put on. He leaned against the window in which we were, putting his hand before his mouth to avoid smiling or to conceal it, saying afterwards that the French might be assured of one thing, that if the King his master were to take another wife, he would not seek for her among them. He then said that when an answer came from your Majesty upon the subject of our communication we should discuss everything and do some good work.

PS – remember how I mentioned this was a long, newsy letter? This is also where Chapuys tells Charles how Jane Seymour refused the offer of a purse of sovereigns, and was given Cromwell’s apartments (so that the King could visit her in secret). Lot’s of great stuff in there!

Want to read all of it? Here you go:

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December 30, 1535 – Chapuys tells Henry VIII of Catherine of Aragon’s Impending Death

December 30, 1535 - Eustace Chapuys tells Henry VIII of Catherine of Aragon's impending death, and gets permission to visit her. Read about it on

Eustace Chapuys, by an unknown artist (public domain via Luminarium.Org)

After Henry VIII rode away from Hampton Court Palace with Anne Boleyn and the rest of the court in June 1531, he never saw Catherine again. Instead, he had her installed in a series of castles and strictly limited who could visit her. By the end of 1535, Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys had not seen Catherine of Aragon for five years, though they corresponded frequently. When he heard in December that she had “fallen into her last sickness,” he immediately sought an audience with the King, hoping to get permission to visit Catherine so that she would have a friend around her when she died.

On December 30, the King finally saw Chapuys and learned that the end was indeed approaching for the woman who still referred to herself as his wife. Henry is reputed to have ignored the personal side of the news to focus on its political ramifications, specifically the fact that once she was gone, the Emperor would have no further cause for “interfering in English affairs.”

Still, he allowed Chapuys to go visit. He refused to extend the same courtesy to Mary, clinging to his insistence that mother and daughter would be reunited only after/if they acknowledged the King’s supremacy in religious matters.  I wonder if Chapuys would have pointed out the irony in the situation, that Catherine could see her daughter only by declaring her a bastard, that Mary could see her mother only by admitting that she had whored with Henry for decades…or whether he would have kept his silence to avoid angering the King and have his hard-won permit revoked.

A bit of a postscript: Chapuys arrived at Kimbolton two days later, followed by Henry’s spies (to make sure no treachery was planned). Catherine was gratified and relieved (“Now I can die in your arms, not abandoned like one of the beasts,” she is reputed to have said). Several hours later, another visitor arrived: Lady Willoughby, formerly Maria de Salinas and one of Catherine’s most loyal ladies, had also heard about her condition. Maria lied about having a permit, and because Chapuys’ presence made her statement believable she was able to gain access to Catherine’s bedchamber – where she basically bolted herself in. Thankfully, Henry’s agents allowed her to stay with her mistress until the very end.

By the time she died, Catherine had spent a total of seventeen years of her life either hoping that Henry would marry her – or that he would abandon his view that they had never been married. Such a long time to be patient…

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