VIII and some of those who incurred his wrath - Nicholas Carew, Henry Courtenay,
Thomas Dingley, Thomas Fines, John Fisher, Thomas Fitzgerald, John Forest, Adrian
Fortescue, John Frith, John Lambert, Thomas More, Edward Neville, John Neville,
Geoffrey Pole, Henry Pole, Margaret Pole, Reginald Pole, and Thomas Wolsey.
Also Henry's 17th century biographer, Edward Herbert.
The reign of Henry VIII (1509-47) was not a good time to
be in the limelight. The famous figures of the day more often died in bloody
circumstances than in their beds, and the number of people persecuted, one way
or another, is too great to list. The work shown here is Lord Herbert of Cherbury's
history, which on the whole presents Henry in a positive light and consequently
does not go into full details of all of those who incurred Henry's wrath.
The account below omits or mentions only in passing those whose imprisonment and/or execution is mentioned by Herbert, but whose sufferings cannot be attributed - at least in part - to their religious beliefs. Among these are Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, William Brereton, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Culpeper, Francis Derham, Mary Douglas, Thomas Fines, Leonard Gray, Catherine Howard, Henry Howard, Thomas Howard, Walter Hungerford, Henry Norris, Mark Smeton and Francis Weston.
I start with Cardinal Wolsey (1475-1530), although he fell foul of Henry, not by differing from him in religious matters, but by failing to procure an annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, thus proving an impediment to Anne Boleyn's ambitions to become queen. She, rather than the king, was his nemesis, together with 17 nobles, who denounced him in 14 articles submitted to the king in 1529. He fell ill and died, shortly after being arrested for high treason, on November 28th, 1530.
Theoretically, though, the severance from Rome was not complete until 1535, so Wolsey's death preceded the Reformation, as did the burning of the Protestant John Frith (1503-33) on July 4th, 1533 (Herbert gives the date as July 20th, 1534).
Following the definitive break with Rome, Herbert passes over the brutal executions of Prior Houghton, Dr. Reynolds, and John Hale, Vicar of Isleworth (see DNB), moving straight on to Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) and John Fisher (1459-1535), Bishop of Rochester, beheaded, as Herbert says, "for denying the Kings Supremacy". In fact, their offence was refusing to accept the Act of Succession, which went quite a bit further than simply naming Henry and Anne's children as successors to the throne. Herbert also mentions, without naming, eleven monks, who were also executed at this time.
Next to lose their heads in Herbert's account are Anne Boleyn and those accused of being her paramours (including her brother, George) The accusations are generally believed to be false, but Herbert gives credence to them.
Herbert notes the execution (in February, 1537) of Thomas Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare and his five uncles, who had been kept in Tyburn following the 1536 Lincolnshire rebellion. Their deaths may have been partly a consequence of their religious beliefs, since the rebellion had been sparked partly by high taxes and partly by resistance to religious change and the dissolution of the monasteries.
Next in Herbert's account are two religious martyrdoms. The friar John Forest (1474?-1538), was burned along with a sacred image for refusing to accept the king's supremacy and encouraging others to do likewise, and John Lambert (vere Nicholson) was burned in 1538 for denying the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He then gives an account of those arraigned for maintaining treasonable connections with Cardinal Reginald Pole, who had left the country. Edward Neville, Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter and Henry Pole, Baron Montague (Reginald's brother), were beheaded in 1538, Nicholas Carew, Adrian Fortescue and Thomas Dingley in 1539, and Reginald Pole's mother, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, was executed barbarously in 1541. Reginald's other brother, Geffrey, and Courtenay's wife, Gertrude, originally condemned with the others, were later released.
After the execution of Thomas Cromwell, in 1540, Herbert notes, with no apparent irony, "And now a cruell time did passe in England" (p. 466), and there follows an account of a spate of beheadings which took place over the next couple of years, followed by lean times for the executioner until the beheading of Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, on charges of treason, just before Henry's death.
Herbert's history is the standard 17th century account of Henry's life. The author, Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648), was one of the leading figures of in the first half of the 17th century, associating with such figures as John Donne and Ben Jonson.
Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth. Written By the Right Honourable Edward
Lord Herbert of Cherbury. (London,
Printed by E.G. for Thomas Whitaker, and are to be sold at his shop, at the
Kings Arms in Pauls Church-yard. 1649, fol., pp. 10+575+7.) A very good copy
of a seminal text, complete in a well-preserved contemporary binding. The frontispiece
engraving of Henry, pictured above, is often missing. Pages 513-520 are misbound
between pages 504-505.
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