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.