Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Bird of Paradise

The Art of Ugly Animals: Medieval Monstrosities - Parrot

In medieval Europe parrots were known only as delicate household birds from the parched orient. Obviously, then, they could not be expected to stand rain: as was proved by the racket they made during a downpour. 'For the parrot swiftly dies,' decided Alexander Neckam (1157-1217, English scholar and teacher) 'when its skin is much moistened by water.' 
To Neckam, therefore, it was plain that such a bird must live in an area of complete drought. Of these there were comparatively few; and Neckam himself plumps for Gilboa. Gilboa was forever dry because of David's curse after the death of Jonathan: 'Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon you!' 
But Neckam had overlooked Paradise. That mount too had no dew or rain upon it; and it was doubtless for this reason that English poetic tradition, at least, maintained the parrot's home to be Paradise.
Since no living thing could die in Paradise, the parrot was immortal. Parrot, in fact, was now qualified for the grander regions of mythology. But parrots have an inconvenient habit of actually existing. And a second layer of natural observation thus arose, which added its own curious flavour to the one above. 
Long ago Aristotle noted that the bird had a weakness for wine; and an echo of the tradition lingers on, half consciously, as late as Othello: 'Drunk? and speak parrot? and squabble? swagger? swear?... oh thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!' But Shakespeare has named it already: Parrot, the spirit of bacchic enthusiasm  The bird's aimless prattle had long linked it with the demented liberation of alcohol; with the frenzy of Dionysus - or the Devil. And side by side with this avatar, there was also the spoilt domestic clown of so many wealthy and aristocratic households. 'It's cleverness is amazing,' comments Neckam on this point, 'and it is better than a troupe of actors at raising a laugh. 

John Skelton (1460–1529) was tutor to Henry VIII, priest and poet laureate. He is the first major Tudor poet, writing during the reigns of Edward IV, Richard III, and (for most of his career) Henry VII and Henry VIII. His poem Speke Parrot, written in 1521, is a satire narrated by a parrot who often makes crude remarks about Cardinal Wolsey. Many of the satirical hints have insinuation to Wolsey's political mission. Here is an extract from it:

My name is Parrot, a bird of Paradise,
By nature devised of a wonderous kind,
Deintily dieted with divers delicate spice,
Til Euphrates, that flod, driveth me into Inde,
Where men of that countrey by fortune me find
And send me to great ladies of estate:
Then Parot must have an almon or a date,

A cage curiously carven, with silver pin,
Properly painted, to be my covertour,
A mirror of glass, that I may toot therin.
These maidens full merily, with many a diverse flowere
Fleshly they dress and make swete my bowre,
With 'Speke, Parrot, I pray you!' full curtsey they say,
'Parrot is goodly bird, a prety popagey!'

With my beck bent, my litle wanton eye,
My fedders fresh as is the em'rawd grene,
About my neck a circulet like the rich ruby,
My little legges, my feet both fete and clene,
I am a minion to wait upon the queene.
'My proper parrot, my litel prety fole!'
With ladies I lern, and go with them to scole.'

Bestand:John Skelton.jpg
John Skelton
Sources: Skelton, H.L.R. Edwards.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

'Here foloweth medycynes for ache in the tethe.'

During the early modern period dental treatments were mainly conducted by barber-surgeons, apothecaries, and even blacksmiths. 
Barbers were, as they are now, professionals who cut your hair, trim your beard and shave your face.  However they also offered a dental care that consisted of pulling teeth.  You did not go to the barber for a dental check-up or to have your teeth cleaned; if you went to the barber for dental reasons, it was to have the tooth extracted. 
Cavities were prevalent among the masses, specifically the wealthy due to their high sugar consumption.  There are some theories that barbers took on the task of tooth extraction because they had sharpened tools and steady hands.  Regardless of how they came upon their side-jobs, they were the men people sought when a tooth pained them. Their anaesthetic - alcohol.
Those who did not use alcohol to alleviate the primal pain of having their tooth ripped out ran the high risk of infection. 
Herbal concoctions were the main remedies with most dental treatments focused on the extraction of rotten teeth. I found this piece of advice literature printed by an anonymous author in 1526.
'Here foloweth medycynes for ache in the tethe also how thou shall make tethe for to fall by theyr owne acorde & to make tethe whyte and fyrste for ye tothe ache.
[Here followeth medicines for ache in the teeth also how thou shall make teeth for to fall by their own accord and to make teeth white and first for the tooth ache.]
'Most it is vsed and best to take Alume & Brymston and brenne them on a fayr  tyle stone & than make powder therof and put to powder of Peper than stampe a cloue of GarlykSingle illegible letter small & medle all togyder & put it in a small lynen bagge and lay it on the same syde of the mouthe within & it wyll do away the ache anone.'
[you need to make a powder of 'Alume' and 'Brimstone' by burning them on a fire, then you need to add pepper and garlic. Mix together and put the mixture in a small linen bag, then put  the bag inside your mouth where you are experiencing the tooth ache. This will eliminate the pain.]
Take Hony & sethe it ouer the fyre and scomme it and put therto powder of Peper & sethe it tyll it be blacke & than take halfe a Sage lefe & lay the Hony theron & lay it to the tothe. 
[You could try honey melted over the fire, add pepper until it turns black, take half a sage leaf, put the mixture on the leaf and lay it on the tooth.]
For the tothe ache that cometh of wormes. [for those who suffer tooth ache arising from 'worms.']
Take Henbane sed Le[...] sede & powder of Enstnce & Rychelesse  of yche lyke moce and lay it on a hote tyle stone gloynge hote & make a pype of latyn the nether ende so wyde that it may couer the seedes & powder & than holde ouer thy mouthe open ouer ye other ende that they ayre may go into the sore tothe.
[Take 'Henbane seed' and powder of 'Enstnce and Rychelesse', lay them on a hot tile-stone that's 'glowing hot' and make a pipe by making the far end so wide that it can hold the seeds and powder, and then hold over your open mouth from the other end in order that air [smoke?] may reach the sore tooth.]
Take the shauynge of the Hertes horne & sethe it longe in water and lay it to the sore tothe.
[Take the shavings of the hart's horn and soak it long in water, then lay it on the sore tooth.]
For the tothe ache.
Take vyneger & Mustarde powder of Peper & of Pellytory of Spayne & the carnell of the Nutgall & boyle them all togyder. And the tethe be holowe put therof into the tethe orels aboute the gummes hote & thou shalbe hole.
[Take vinegar and mustard, powder of pepper and 'pellytory' of Spain, and the 'carnell of the Nutgall' and boil them together. Put this hot mixture in the hollow of your tooth or on the gums and you'll be 'whole' (i.e. well)]
For the tothe ache or for wormes in ytethe. [For tooth ache or worms of the teeth.]
Take Peper & stampe it and tempre it with good wyne & suppe therof warme & holde it in thy mouthe tyll it be colde & than spytte it out & do thus ofte and thou shalbe delyuered of all anguysshe.
[Take some ground pepper and mix it with good wine, and while warm take a sip and keep it in your mouth till it cools and then spit it out. Repeat this and you will be 'delivered of all anguish.']
Take Hartes horne & brenne it & put ye asshes that come therof in a lynen clothe & laye it to thy rotten tethe & it shall make them fast.
[Take hart's horn and burn it, then put the ashes that is produced in a linen cloth and  lay it on the rotten teeth and it'll make them well.]
To make wormes to come out of the tethe.
Take Henbane & the reed Prymroll of the hethe & vyrgyn wer & make a candell therof and holde thy mouthe ouer the candell brenynge yt the smoke may go vp into thy tethe and do so ofte & thou shall se ywormes fall out before the & than anoynte thye cheke with horse grece & it shall do the good.
[Take Henbane and the reed 'Prymroll' of the heath and 'virgin wer,' make a candle with this, and hold your mouth over the candle so that the smoke may go up into your teeth. Do this repeatedly and you'll see the worms fall out in front of you, and then anoint your cheek with horse grease and it'll be well.]
For to fasten tethe that be lose. [To secure loose teeth.]
Take the barke of the tree that bereth the Pomegrayne & Mastyke & of oyle Libanu~ & Reckles of all euen porcyon  & make powder & tempre it with Acrose & put it in a smal lynen clothe & lay it on the gumbes without.
[Take the bark of the pomegranate tree and of the mastic tree, and libani oil, all in equal measures, make a powder, then temper it with 'acrose' and put it in a small linen cloth and lay on the outer side of the gums.]
To make tethe to fall by themselfe. [To make teeth fall out by themselves.]
Take a water frogge & a verte frogge & sethe them togyder & gader the grece & smere therwith thy gomes aboute the tothe.
[Take a water frog and a green frog, soak them together and extract their oil, then smear it on your gums around the tooth.] 
For stynkynge tethe [For stinking teeth]
Take two handes full of Comyn & stampe it small & sethe it in wyne & gyue them to drynke .xv. dayes & that shall make them hole.
[Take two hands full of cumin and grind it finely, then soak it in wine and drink it. In 15 days they'll be fine.
For to make tethe whyte.
Take Hony Salte & Rye mele & medle them togyder & frete thy tethe therwith & they shalbe whyte.
[Take honey, salt and rye meal and mix them together, then rub your teeth all over and they will be white.]
King Henry VIII granting a Royal Charter to the Barber-Surgeons company.

King Henry VIII granting a Royal Charter to the Barber-Surgeons company.

Sources: EEBO, http://www.medievalsociety.org/2008/03/28/getting-medieval-on-your-teeth/, http://articles.pubarticles.com/dentistry-in-the-ancient-and-early-modern-periods-1314308438,306797.html

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

When the 'Prince of Humanism' met prince Henry (future Henry VIII).

  • Desiderius Erasmus  (1467?–1536)

    Erasmus was born in mysterious circumstances—his father was a priest who had seduced the daughter of a doctor of Zevenbergen called Geert—and his destiny continued to be exceptional. He was born in Rotterdam in 1467 and, a few decades later, was to win fame for his town, which in this latter part of the fifteenth century was only a little fishing village, by adding its name to his. The obscure son of Geert (which means ‘the desired one’ in Dutch) was thus to became famous as Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, known subsequently as the ‘Prince of Humanism’.
    His celebrity raises more questions than it answers for the historian of ideas Erasmus was neither a leader of men nor a great philosopher. Unlike Luther, Zwingli or Calvin, he did not found a religion. He escaped all forms of persecution at a time of civil and international warfare and religious revolution, while his best friends perished on the field of battle or by the executioner’s axe, victims of their commitment to a cause. One such example was his best friend Thomas More, the author of Utopia, who was Chancellor of England before being beheaded in London in July 1535. Erasmus wrote all his works in Latin, the language of the élite of Europe at that time; he could thus count on only a few thousand readers. Apart from a small number of academics and students, who could claim today to be able to read Erasmus in the original? However this man, who spoke Dutch and German only to innkeepers and servants, wanted the most important books to be translated into modern languages so that, in his words, ‘the labourer at the plough and the weaver at the loom could pray to God in a language which they themselves could understand’.
    Having been ordained a priest on 25 April 1492, he left Steyn to become the secretary of the 
    bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen. He went to Paris in 1495 where he was initially a resident at the austere Collège de Montaigu. Thereafter, he led an independent existence, giving Latin lessons to the sons of rich bourgeois and aristocratic English and German families, writing textbooks which later became teaching manuals, and which certain countries and schools—such as St. Paul’s School and Eton College in England—were to use for centuries. He had yet to publish anything, but had already established a reputation as an ‘orator’ and ‘poet’ in the humanist circles of Paris. In 1499—he was then, at least, 30—one of his pupils, the rich Lord William Mountjoy, took him to England. The course of his life then took a decisive turn thanks to the friendship and respect of some of the most influential figures of the time. He was the guest of the royal family, became the friend of John Colet, a theologian at Oxford and future Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, met Thomas More and, subsequently, grammarians, scholars and theologians of a reformist persuasion 

    Thomas More had been one of the first men Erasmus had met upon his arrival in England. Well Hall, the Eltham seat of the Ropers, was not far from Mountjoy's Greenwich manor; and More occasionally spent his weekends there. He was officially studying law at Lincoln's Inn, and unofficially, with the help of Grocyn, mastering Greek as fast as he could. All his spare time was now spent in translating Greek epigrams, when he was not trying his hand as a playwright. (In a letter to Holt the grammarian in 1501, he talks mysteriously of 'those parts which I put into the comedy on Solomon.') With his usual charm More set himself to render his young guest stay in England as agreeable as possible. One morning he had a surprise for him:

    I was staying at lord Mountjoy's country house [writes Erasmus] when Thomas More came to see me, and took me out with him for a walk as far as the next village [Eltham], where all the king's children [Henry VII], except prince Arthur [who was accompanying his father] who was then the eldest son, were being educated. When we came into the hall, the attendants not only of the palace but also of Mounjoy's household were all assembled. In the midst stood prince Henry, then nine years old, and having already something of royalty in his demeanour, in which there was a certain dignity combined with singular courtesy. On his right was Margaret, about eleven years of age, afterwards married to James, king of Scots, and on his left played Mary, a child of four. Edmund was an infant in arms. More, with his companion Arnold, after paying his respects to the boy Henry, presented him with some writing. For my part, not having expected anything of the sort, I had nothing to offer, but promised that on another occasion I would in some way declare my duty towards him. Meanwhile I was angry with More for not having warned me, especially as the boy sent me a little note, while we were at dinner, to challenge something from my pen. I went home, and in the Muses' spite, from whom I had been so long divorced. finished the poem within three days.
    We know that Erasmus got the children's age wrong (Henry was 8 at the time), but also It has been suggested that this meeting was pre-arranged by More and John Skelton, the young prince's tutor. Here is a short extract from the poem Erasmus wrote for the prince translated from Latin:

    Skilled in war,
    Lover of peace,
    Indulgent to others,
    Strict to himself,
    More sublime than Caesar,
    More generous than Maecenas …
    The father of the Age of Gold.


    In 1498 Erasmus travels to England where he meets Thomas More, John Colet, and the future Henry VIII, who was 8 years old at the time. 

    H.L.Edwards, Skelton, London 1949


    Saturday, 24 November 2012

    'A greate mastyfe dogge and a foule ouglye beare.'

    Early Tudor animal-baiting.

    A disapproving early Puritan voice on the subject of bear-baiting:

    "Of Bearbaytynge.
    What follye is thys, to kepe wyth daunger,
    A greate mastyfe dogge and a foule ouglye beare;
    And to thys onelye ende, to se them two fyght,
    Wyth terrible tearynge, a full ouglye syght.
    And yet me thynke those men be mooste foles of all,
    Whose store of money is but verye smale. 
    And yet euerye Sondaye they will surelye spende
    One penye or two, the bearwardes lyuyng to mende.
    At Paryse Garden eche Sundaye, a man shall not fayle
    To fynde two or three hundredes, for the bearwardes vaile." (Robert Crowley in 1550)

    Robert Crowley clearly felt that the whole notion of bear-baiting was distasteful since, aside from the dangerous nature of the entertainment, poor men were wasting their money every Sunday at Paris Garden.

    The godly frequently damned the two entertainments in one breath, despising bear-baiting because it took place on the Sabbath and playing because it was popular enough to fill the house every other day of the week. Meanwhile, courtiers displayed as marked a penchant for animal-baiting as they had for theatre  An aristocratic pastime in the Middle Ages, bear-baiting became a commercial activity toward the end of the fifteenth century, when bearwards wearing the liveries of their lordly patrons took their masters' animals on tour to the country houses of the kingdom—rather in the manner of playing companies. In the early modern period the sports of baiting and playing occupied homologous social positions, caught between the paying London crowd and the nobles and monarchs who continued to patronise them—and who intermittently brought them to court for command performance

    all classes used to go to the bear-baiting as well as the theatre, to a court ceremony as well as a public execution. 

    The first specific reference that has been found to bear-baiting on Bankside is in an order of Henry VIII dated 13th April, 1546, to the Mayor and Sheriffs of London, to proclaim the abolition of the Stews on Bankside and of bear-baiting 'in that row or in any place on that side London bridge.' Notwithstanding this proclamation Thomas Fluddie, Yeoman of His Majesty's Bears, was granted a licence in September, 1546, to 'make pastime' with the king's bears 'at the accustomed place at London, called the Stewes.' 
     Alongside theatre, bear-baiting was a wildly popular Tudor pastime. Huge English Mastiff dogs would be let loose to attack a large bear that had had its teeth filed down and was chained to a stake in the centre of an open arena. Several dogs would be allowed to attack at once, until the bear tired. Bull-baiting with dogs was also common.

    Royalty had mixed views on Southwark’s offerings. In 1503 Henry VII closed Southwark’s brothels and in 1519 Henry VIII ordered Cardinal Wolsey to purge London and Southwark of brothels and gaming houses  In 1546, Henry VIII again commanded that the brothels be closed, although this was overturned by his son Edward VI a few years later. Henry also forbade bull- and bear-baiting (although he gave permission for one of his own Yeoman to own a baiting pit). 

    Why did people bait animals in early modern England? What exactly made the bear-gardens popular London spectacles, as important a part of the tourist itinerary as the royal palaces, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the lions in the Tower? At least two literary critics have recently attempted to answer these questions. For Stephen Dickey the matches were part of a heterogeneous spectacle, ‘a carnival of cruelty’ in a predominantly festive, comic mode, which offered plentiful opportunities for gambling. Contemporary accounts harp on "the audience's unspeakable pleasure and 'good contentment'"; Dickey comments that ‘again and again the audience was pleased by what it saw, cheered it on, and laughed at it.’By contrast, Erica Fudge, in a study of the construction and deconstruction of the animal as 'other' in early modern culture, picks up on one report of a baiting match—written by the Italian merchant Alessandro Magno in 1562—which expresses reservations about the sport:

    They take into the ring—which is fenced around, so that one cannot get out unless the gate is opened—a cheap horse with all his harness and trappings, and a monkey in the saddle. Then they attack the horse with five or six of the youngest dogs. Then they change the dogs for more experienced ones. In this sport it is wonderful to see the horse galloping along, kicking up the ground and champing at the bit, with the monkey holding very tightly to the saddle, and crying out frequently when he is bitten by the dogs. After they have entertained the audience for a while with this sport, which often results in the death of the horse, they lead him out and bring in bears—sometimes one at a time and sometimes altogether. But this sport is not very pleasant to watch.

    On the basis of this account, Fudge argues that the fascination of cruelty to animals lay in its repeated blurring of the lines dividing humans from animals. While the monkey moves Magno to laughter, the less obviously anthropoid bears (who are, like the spectators, confined in the arena) serve to remind Magno of his weakness in the face of a violent and wild nature. More generally, some parts of the bear-garden entertainment offer viewers the illusion of their superiority to the beasts on display; other parts collapse ‘the binaries of baiting and being baited; watching and performing; human and animal.' 

    The documentary evidence suggests, however, that a large part of the pleasure of blood sports for the early modern viewer had to do with what it revealed about the animals. In first-hand accounts of animal-baitings, animals are regularly anthropomorphised by way of their surprising qualities and characteristics.


    Jason Scott-Warren.

    Tuesday, 20 November 2012

    The King's Vicar - general.

    Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in or before 1485, d. 1540).

  • The establishment of the new religion under Henry VIII ushered in several Protestant rising stars, who grabbed their opportunities and positioned themselves in the right place for advancement. Their humble origin suddenly ceased to be a real obstacle to upward mobility, since as long as their service and loyalty can be guaranteed, the sky was the limit - or so they thought. Here is a brief account of Cromwell's early days.

    Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in or before 1485, d. 1540), royal minister, was the son of Walter Cromwell of Putney, Surrey, who made his name there as a blacksmith, fuller, and cloth merchant, as well as the owner of both a hostelry and a brewery. The precise date of Thomas Cromwell's birth is uncertain, but could not have been after 1485. Very little is known about his early life in Putney apart from his own declaration to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer much later as to what a ‘ruffian he was in his young days’ (Acts and Monuments, 5.365). He is even said to have been imprisoned for a short while. Certainly life at home was not easy. Despite his property and local influence Cromwell's father drank heavily and was regularly in trouble. Between 1475 and 1501 Walter Cromwell was fined 6d. by the manor court on forty-eight occasions for breaches of the assize of ale, and he was also often reprimanded for allowing his cattle to graze too freely on public land. More seriously, in 1477 he was convicted of assault and fined 20d., and he was finally evicted from his manorial tenancy in 1514 after fraudulently altering documents concerning his tenure.

    Therefore, how did a man from such obscure and troublesome background rise to become Henry VIII's most powerful statesman? 

    His marriage to Elizabeth Williams, née Wykys (d. 1527) with whom he had his only surviving son, Gregory, was a good match for him. Elizabeth was the widow of Thomas Williams, a yeoman of the guard, and her father, Henry Wykys, was another Putney shearman who had also served as a gentleman usher to Henry VII. The marriage enabled Cromwell to seek his father-in-law's assistance in obtaining a foothold in the English cloth trade. 

    By 1520 Cromwell was firmly established in London mercantile and legal circles. Most significantly he began to act for clients in several important suits, including an appeal from the prerogative court of Canterbury to the papal curia in October that year. Then in 1521 he acted for Charles Knyvett, formerly surveyor to Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham, who had resigned from Buckingham's service shortly before the duke's execution for treason on 17 May, and gave evidence against him. Knyvett now sought to recover offices he had lost following his resignation, as well as release from bonds to the value of £3100 which he had been forced to undertake on Buckingham's behalf. Cromwell prepared and corrected numerous petitions on behalf of his client, some of which were delivered to the king and some to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. He failed on this occasion, but for the first time he had succeeded in making his name known in the highest circles of government. During the next few years he came increasingly into contact with the cardinal over legal matters. For instance, in 1521 he was employed by the London bakers' guild to draft petitions to both Wolsey and the lord mayor for licence to reform their craft. The following year he was instructed as an attorney in a case before the king's council and in another in which Wolsey was personally involved.

    By the time the Act of Supremacy was passed in 1534, Cromwell found himself securely positioned for the next stage of his career. A clause in the Act explicitly gave Henry the right 'to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain and amend all such errors, heresies ... and enormities ... which by any manner spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may be lawfully reformed ... .' This prompted Henry to name three men who were to act as 'visitors' to the country's ecclesiastical institutions, and their titles which would resound through the Church of England for the rest of the decade were: Vice-generates et vicarios nostros generales.' Cromwell was already envisaged as the senior. However, in 1535 alterations were made to produce a final commission which named Cromwell as sole Vice-gerent or Vicar-general. 

    What implications did this have and how did this position facilitate his rise to even greater heights? 

    Cromwell moved into action on 3 June 1535 by issuing a circular letter to all the bishops ordering them to preach in support of the supremacy, and to ensure that the clergy in their dioceses did so as well. A week later he sent further letters to JPs ordering them to report any instances of his instructions being disobeyed. In the following month he turned his attention to the monasteries. Since early June the king and queen had been engaged on a magnificent progress to the west country which occupied them until the end of September. Cromwell caught up with the court at Winchcombe on 23 July and travelled with it for two months. Encouraged by Anne, Henry took the unusual decision to put business before pleasure and used the trip as an opportunity to visit towns where there was strong support for reform, and bestowed rewards on the local gentry who were largely responsible for this. Cromwell took this opportunity to launch his own visitation of religious houses by organizing the inspection of the monasteries in the west country, even investigating a few himself. In September he increased the pace by suspending the authority of every bishop in the country so that the six canon lawyers he had appointed as his agents could complete their surveys. When a newly established vicegerential court gradually restored power to individual bishops they were declared to be officers of state. When the king died their powers too would expire. Cromwell also withheld indefinitely certain rights which brought with them lucrative fees, such as those of visitation and probate, in the hope that their temporary loss would furnish incentives to obedience.

    The final stage in the process came in the summer 1536, when Cromwell was 'made high vicar over the spirituality under the King and sat divers times in the Convocation house among the bishops as head over them.'  His powers had now been extended, because his visitation, the original reason for granting them, had run its course. The ultimate symbol of his new position was his promotion above the Archbishop of Canterbury in the ranking of precedence in the House of Lords, in May 1539. 

    Dr Ayris described Cromwell's position at this stage: 'from 1535, Cromwell effectively eclipsed Thomas Cranmer [Archbishop of Canterbury] as the principal minister of the King's spiritual jurisdiction'. It would be the Vice-gerent who would take the lead in guiding Cranmer through the political crisis of Spring 1536, which destroyed his great patroness: Anne Boleyn. 

    Cromwell's fall 


    A crisis was developing in Calais. Cromwell had clashed with Lord Lisle, the king's deputy, on several occasions during the past few years over the activities of reformers in the pale. The problem was largely that while Lisle, his wife, and the leading members of the council there were all ardent conservatives implacably opposed to religious reform Cranmer had found it expedient to move some evangelical ministers there away from England. When the earl of Hertford had made a visit to inspect the defences earlier in the year Lisle took the opportunity to complain about Cranmer's evangelical commissary John Butler and others whom he regarded as sacramentaries—deniers of the real presence in the eucharist. By the beginning of May the news had spread round the court, and on the 6th Cromwell, still convalescing, wrote to Lisle asking him to look into the matter. Encouraged by the developments at Westminster the deputy rounded up his opponents and sent them to London for investigation. Incensed by what he saw as a witchhunt Cromwell appealed unsuccessfully to Lisle to halt it. On 12 June one of the MPs for Calais, Thomas Broke, made an over-impassioned speech in the Commons against the six articles and joined the others under investigation.

    At this time of evangelical despondency it took very little to raise spirits. Cromwell was able to carry a contentious Statute of Proclamations, giving proclamations issued by king and council the same legal force as parliamentary statutes, and in the last week of June both houses of parliament agreed on minor concessions on clerical marriage and chastity. These, and Cromwell's positive view of the Calais evangelicals' chances, were enough to give him hope, but overall the situation remained very bleak. The six articles were passed shortly before the session ended on 28 June. Their positions now untenable, bishops Latimer and Shaxton resigned immediately. Foxe recounts a story that when the king organized a reconciliatory dinner in Cranmer's honour at Lambeth Palace shortly afterwards, Cromwell became embroiled in a bitter argument with a leading noble, probably Norfolk, who had impugned Cardinal Wolsey's honour. The first weeks of July marked a new low point for Cromwell. Most of the evangelicals before Cranmer for investigation following the new act had been reported by Lisle, who continued to provide a stream of new charges; the archbishop had no option but to imprison many of the accused. On 12 July the French ambassador Marillac informed François I that Henry had ‘taken up again all the old opinions and constitutions, excepting only papal obedience and destruction of abbeys and churches of which he has taken the revenue’ (LP Henry VIII, 14/1, no. 1260).

    But then Cromwell's influence with the king suddenly began to revive. During July the conservative bishops gradually returned to their dioceses. In August an outburst from Bishop Gardiner, in which he called the evangelical Robert Barnes a heretic, was enough for Cromwell to have him expelled from the privy council, and Bishop Sampson also went at the same time. By the autumn Henry's mood had changed noticeably and the Lutheran Burchard was back. Cromwell was very much in favour again. After two years of indecision Henry finally accepted his proposal that he should marry Anne, the sister of Duke Wilhelm of Cleves, agreeing to the treaty in early October. While the duke was no protestant, neither was he close to either pope or emperor, and the treaty considerably increased the prospects for an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League of Lutheran princes. Henry also showed more support for Cromwell in his enthusiasm for promulgating the Great Bible. He commissioned Cranmer to compose an official preface to the second edition, and in a proclamation released on 14 November granted the vicegerent responsibility for licensing all Bibletranslations for the next five years. The situation also improved radically for the Calais evangelicals. Taking advantage of the death of Bishop Stokesley of London on 15 September, Cromwell and Cranmer released the vast majority of them in mid-November, while delaying proceedings against the others.

    On 27 December Anne of Cleves arrived at Dover, greeted with lavish celebrations. On New Year's day 1540 the king caught his first glimpse of her at Rochester. However, it was immediately obvious that she was not the beauty Holbein had portrayed, and Henry found her physically repulsive. The wedding ceremony on 6 January at Greenwich was unavoidable and Cromwell took the blame. The conservatives instantly saw this as a chance to topple him, and there were pulpit confrontations across the country. In March Robert Barnes was imprisoned in the Tower together with two other notorious evangelicals, William Jerome and Thomas Garrett. After his stand-off with Gardiner over Barnes in the previous August, Cromwell recognized the danger the bishop now posed and arranged a conciliatory dinner in an attempt to resolve their differences. In Calais, Lisle was in close contact with the conservatives in London, and the duke of Norfolk arranged for a new commission of carefully chosen conservatives to investigate heresy there. Appointed on 9 March, on 5 April they reported ‘great division’ in the pale. Thirteen heretics were sent back to London, five of whom were recipients of the vicegerent's direct patronage. Cromwell was in deep trouble.

    On 10 April Ambassador Marillac reported that Cromwell was ‘tottering’, and even speculated about who would succeed to his offices. Two days later parliament opened with another speech by Audley repeating the king's demand to find a middle way in religion, and the appointment of two new committees to resolve this was announced. On 17 April Lord Lisle arrived from Calais at Norfolk's invitation. Yet still Cromwell enjoyed the king's protection. Although he resigned the duties of the secretaryship to his protégés Ralph Sadler and Thomas Wriothesley about this time he did not lose any power: indeed, on 18 April Henry confirmed his standing by granting him the earldom of Essex and the senior court office of lord great chamberlain. Cromwell set in motion the process of setting up the court of wards (the bill was read in the Lords for the first time on 3 June), and with renewed vigour he lashed out again at his conservative opponents. Lisle had come to London in the expectation of promotion in the peerage. Instead, on 19 May, he was taken to the Tower on suspicion of treason, never to leave it. By the end of the month two leading conservative members of the current parliamentary committees, Sampson and Dr Nicholas Wilson, had joined him. But Cromwell's attempts to rid himself of his opponents were looking increasingly desperate. At the same time Norfolk and Gardiner plotted his own downfall. On 1 June Marillac reported that ‘Things are brought to such a pass that either Cromwell's party or that of the bishop of Winchester must succumb’ (LP Henry VIII, 15, no. 737). With further arrests expected drastic action was required.

    On 10 June Cromwell arrived slightly late for a meeting of the privy council. As he entered the chamber the captain of the guard came forward and arrested him, presenting charges of treason and heresy. Surprised and furious Cromwell threw down his bonnet, appealing to the consciences of those present. But realizing this was useless he begged for a speedy dispatch. Norfolk went over and ripped the George from around his neck, relishing the opportunity to restore this low-born man to his former status, while the earl of Southampton untied the Garter from his knee. Finally the prisoner was led out through a side door which opened down onto the river and taken by boat the short journey from Westminster to the Tower.

    The news of the arrest was announced by Audley to a silent House of Lords in the afternoon, while men appointed by the king seized Cromwell's house at Austin Friars. A week later a bill of attainder was introduced into the Lords. Containing a long list of indictments ranging from treason, heresy, and corruption to plotting to marry Princess Mary, it was passed on 29 June. Cromwell's last service to Henry was to confirm details of their private conversations which could be used as evidence that the marriage with Anne of Cleves had not been consummated. Terrified for his life he closed the letter with the plea, ‘Most gracyous prynce I crye for mercye mercye mercye’, though he of all people should have known the futility of this (Merriman, 2.273). But by 28 July, when Cromwell walked out onto Tower Green for his execution, he had recovered his composure. In his speech from the scaffold he denied that he had aided heretics, but acknowledged the judgment of the law. He then prayed for a short while before placing his head on the block. He suffered a particularly gruesome execution before what was left of his head was set upon a pike on London Bridge as the usual warning to traitors.

    Sources: ODNB. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer, 1996.

    Saturday, 12 May 2012

    The "detestable and abominable Vice" - the 1533 Act.

    Recent discussions and the raising of awareness of gay marriage, in addition to Barack Obama's 'coming out' and declaring his support for it, prompted me to post a brief account of the notorious act which legitimised  persecution of anyone engaging in specific acts related to homosexuals. 

    There was no royal or parliamentary law against homosexual activity in England until 1533, but a number of medieval legal sources do discuss "sodomy":

    "Let enquiry also be made of those who feloniously in time of peace have burnt other's corn or houses, and those who are attainted thereof shall be burnt, so that they might be punished in like manner as they have offended. The same sentence shall be passed upon sorcerers, sorceresses, renegades, sodomists, and heretics publicly convicted"

    Under most common law legal systems, the term buggery refers to a criminal offence and has a specific legal meaning. In English law, "buggery" was first used in the Buggery Act 1533, while Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, entitled "Sodomy and Bestiality", defined punishments for "the abominable Crime of Buggery, committed either with Mankind or with any Animal". Neither Act defined what constituted buggery. The 1533 Act was introduced by Thomas Cromwell at the same time as the establishment of the Act of Supremacy and England's break with Rome.

    1533 Act:

    "Forasmuch as there is not yet sufficient and condign punishment appointed and limited by the due course of the Laws of this Realm for the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind of beast: It may therefore please the King's Highness with the assent of the Lords Spiritual and the Commons of this present parliament assembled, that it may be enacted by the authority of the same, that the same offence be from henceforth ajudged Felony and that such an order and form of process therein to be used against the offenders as in cases of felony at the Common law. And that the offenders being herof convict by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realme. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy, And that Justices of the Peace shall have power and authority within the limits of their commissions and Jurisdictions to hear and determine the said offence, as they do in the cases of other felonies. This Act to endure till the last day of the next Parliament"

    Piloted through Parliament by Thomas Cromwell, The Act established punishment of buggery by hanging, a penalty not finally lifted until 1861. In July 1540, contravention of the Act, along with treason, resulted in the first conviction:  Walter Hungerford, Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury became the first person executed under the statute, although it was probably the treason that cost him his life. Nicholas Udall, a cleric, playwright, and Headmaster of Eaton College, was the first to be charged with violation of the Act alone in 1541. He was accused of engaging in 'sodomy' with his students, and of brutally punishing them unfairly. In his case, the sentence was commuted to imprisonment and he was released in less than a year. The Act was repealed in 1553 on the accession of Queen Mary. However, it was re-enacted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1563 and became the charter for all subsequent criminalisation in the English-speaking world, but in England, only a few executions are recorded during the two and a half centuries that followed. 

    Gay men kill themselves after being arrested in 1707
    Gay men in England kill themselves after being arrested 

    Here is an interesting account of Walter Hungerford's life:
    Born in the year 1503 Walter Hungerford was the only child of Edward Hungerford and his first wife Jane Zouche. Walter was nineteen years old at his father's death in 1522, at which point his father left his entire personal estate to his second wife Agnes. As it happens his father's disposition of his property became somehwat academic when Agnes was convicted of murdering her first husband, for which crime she was hanged at Tyburn on the 5th February 1523.
     Walter was therefore granted livery of his father's former lands on the 15th July 1523, including the manor in Somerset. He subsequently became a squire of the body to Henry VIII, and then went through a number of marriages in quick succession. His first wife was Susan, the daughter of John Danvers, but she was certainly dead by the 22nd March 1527, as it was on that date on which Walter signed the agreement to marry his second wife. She was Alice, the daughter of  William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys of the Vyne who in turn had died by March 1532.Walter's career was soon to benefit from the efforts that his new father-in-law made on his behalf, as having become a magistrate for Wiltshire in 1532, the Lord Hussey then wrote a letter to Thomas Cromwell on the 20th August 1532 recommending his future son-in-law.
    As a result William was appointed to the post of sheriff of Wiltshire in 1533, and subsequently appears to to have proved ao useful to Cromwell that the latter made a memorandum note in June 1535 that Walter ought to receive some kind of reward. The result was that he was summoned to Parliament by a writ addressed to 'Waltero domino Hungerford de Haytisbury chr' on the 27th April 1536, being therefore regarded as the Baron Hungerford, and duly took his seat in the House of Lords on the 8th June 1536.It however seems that his new wife Elizabeth was less than happy with her married life as she wrote to Thomas Cromwell in 1536 appealing for his help. She claimed that her husband had kept her imprisoned at Farleigh Castle since their marriage and that Walter's chaplain  had made several attempts to poison her. She also wrote that, "I may sooner object such matters against him with many other detestable and urgent causes, than he can against me, if I would express them, as he well knoweth"; hinting darkly that there was much more that she could say about her husband's misdemeanours.
    However it does not appear that Cromwell took the slightest notice of these allegations as Walter carried on much as before. Indeed now that he was a peer he found himself invited to attend some of the more important ceremonial occasions, and was present at the baptism of Prince Edward in October 1537, followed by the funeral of Jane Seymour in November 1537. Walter was then appointed to the county bench for Somerset in the following year, and in January 1540 was present at the reception held for Anne of Cleves. All this time Walter was active in the local land market, gradually building up his estates which were worth over £1,000 by the beginning of 1540. Unfortunately having attached himself to Thomas Cromwell during the 1530s he found himself caught up in the latter's downfall.
     After Cromwell was attainted on the 15th June 1540, a bill of attainder was introduced in Parliament against Walter on the 2nd July, passed on the 14th, and received its royal assent on the 24th, depriving him of both title and estates and, as it turned out, his life as well. There were three prinicpal charges laid against Walter; firstly that he had employed as his chaplain a man named William Byrd or Bird, the vicar of Bradford in Wiltshire, who was a known traitor and was attainted at the same Parliament for supporting The Pilgrimage of Grace and calling the king a heretic; secondly, that he had employed another chaplain who, together with a certain Dr. Maudlin, had apparently practised witchcraft in order to establish the king's date of death as well as his chances of victory over the aforesaid rebels; and last but not least, that he had practised an "unnatural vice".

    As it happens it appears to be the last charge that everyone took seriously at the time. As the French ambassador Charles de Marillac wrote in a letter on the 29th July 1540, Walter was "Attainted of sodomy of having forced his own daughter and having practiced magic and invocation of devils" which, of course, may well have been what his estranged wife had earlier been hinting at. (And who also may have been the source of this particular accusation in the first place.) Although it must be said that there are those that suspected that the allegations of treason had more to do with king Henry's desire to possess the Hungerford estates rather than any real political transgression on Walter's part.
     Nevertheless Walter was duly beheaded at Tower Hill on the 28th July 1540, the same day as his former patron Thomas Cromwell. The chronicler Raphael Holinshed recorded that Walter was a man "who at the hour of his death seemed unquiet, as many judged him rather in a frenzy than otherwise", and casually mentioned that his torments had a simple explanation since (of course) "he suffered for buggery". According to the Great Chronicle of London his severed head was displayed on London Bridge, whilst his body was buried in the grounds of the Tower of London.