Eustace Chapuys

Possibly contemporary
portrait of Eustace Chapuys
Eustace Chapuys was the Imperial ambassador. His correspondence is the basis of many Tudor era histories, and because of it, Chapuys's prejudices have become woven into the standard narrative of the era.

He was born around 1490 in southern France, but attended university in Turin and Rome, studying civil and church law to obtain his doctorate. Very little is known about his personal life except that he had an illegitimate son named Césare, and he worried about his mother a great deal. As a well-educated humanist, he corresponded with other learned intellectuals of the day, such as Erasmus and Thomas More.

Chapuys served on diplomatic missions for the Duke of his native Savoy, which eventually brought him to the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Charles sent him to England in 1529 as an ambassador, and he would remain for nearly two decades.

Chapuys arrived as Henry VIII's "Great Matter" was coming to a head. Charles thought Chapuys's knowledge of church and civil law would assist his aunt, Katharine of Aragon, in fighting to keep her marriage to Henry VIII from being invalidated.

Henry had initially insisted he really wanted to be married to Katharine - that if he had a choice of all the women in the world, he would choose her again - but he just had to assure himself that their marriage really was valid. During Chapuys's first audience with the king, he reported:

[Henry] replied that he would sooner have lost one of his hands than that such a question [about his marriage] should have arisen; but it was entirely a matter of law and conscience, and he had never been appealed to; that it had been submitted to ecclesiastics and doctors, who had pronounced against the validity of the marriage; that if the dispensation you held [from the pope, allowing the marriage to Katharine] was illegal, the King would consider himself the most abused prince in Christendom;

While Henry protested how much he wanted to stay married to Katharine, he was busy finding the best legal minds he could to dissolve his marriage. His position was that his marriage to Katharine was incestuous because she had been previously married to his older brother, Arthur. Katharine's answer to that was that she had a dispensation from the pope allowing her to marry Henry. Henry said the pope could not invalidate Biblical law. Katharine said the marriage to Arthur hadn't been consummated. Henry responded to that by finding witnesses who testified that Arthur had bragged about his sexual exploits with his bride. And so it went.

The pope was in a somewhat delicate situation. In 1527, Charles's troops had attacked and sacked Rome, taking the pope hostage. By the time Chapuys arrived in England, the pope was at liberty again, but he was never really free. He seems to have lived in fear of Charles, and he wouldn't dare to enrage the emperor by ruling against his aunt, Katharine, despite the fact it might end up severing England's relationship with the papacy.

It was, at first, just a routine diplomatic mission for Chapuys, but it soon evolved into a deep and lasting friendship with Katharine. Whatever her faults, Katharine was always kind, pious, and fiercely loyal to her family. To Chapuys, she was the embodiment of all that was good, and Anne Boleyn was the epitome of evil. This fight became personal for Chapuys, as he championed the rights of his friend against the forces of corruption personified by Anne. He saw everything Anne did as nefarious, and could not even bring himself to write her name in most of his dispatches. He referred to her as "the lady" or "the concubine."

Katharine cherished the memories of the handsome young prince she'd married, who had once written her love poetry. She insisted that was the "real" Henry. Any negativity Henry displayed was Anne's fault. Chapuys wrote to Charles:

The King himself is not ill-natured; it is this Anne who has put him in this perverse and wicked temper, and alienates him from his former humanity.

If Henry treated Mary harshly, Chapuys believed it was because Anne had goaded him to it. He claims in one of his dispatches that Henry did not dare to contradict Anne, and says in another that Henry had to sneak to visit Princess Mary when Anne wasn't around.

It is certain that the King dares [not] bring her where the Lady is, for she does not wish to see her or hear of her. Thinks he would have talked with the Princess longer and more familiarly, if the Lady had not sent two of her people to listen.

Anyone familiar with Henry's character knows how laughable this notion is. Henry may have indulged Anne when it pleased him, and they may have quarreled when he didn't, but Anne Boleyn never controlled the king or henpecked him into anything. Henry's pride simply wouldn't allow it.

Even as late as 1532, Katharine was still deluding herself that Henry wasn't really serious about ending their marriage.

[Katharine] said that if she could speak to [Henry], all that has happened would be nothing, as he was so good, and that he would treat her better than ever, but she is not allowed to see him.

She blamed others for blocking her access to the king. Blamed Anne for leading him into his sin. Blamed everyone but Henry himself for his actions, and Chapuys followed her lead. He was happy to blame Anne for any negativity that came from the king, though he didn't hesitate to note Henry's "flexible" conscience. He wrote to Charles about the king's claims of supremacy over the church of England:

As for the King's menaces and intrigues, the Nuncio has complained of them to the King, saying the world would find it strange that he who had formerly written in favor of the Pope's authority would thus annul it against God, reason, and the obedience he had given to this Pope, following in the footsteps of his predecessors. The King replied that what he did was for the preservation of his own authority, and to protect himself against injuries done to him at Rome ; that it was quite true that he had written books in favor of the Pope, but he had studied the question more deeply, and found the contrary of what he had written to be true, and that possibly they might yet give him occasion to study further, and re-confirm what he had written,—intimating that it only depended on the Pope complying with his wishes.

Our perception of Anne as a bitchy, ruthless creature - the wicked stepmother, the poisoner, the home-wrecker - comes from Chapuys's letters to Charles. Chapuys reported every negative piece of gossip about her that he encountered, and though historians are well-aware of his hostility and unreliability, his reports have formed the backbone of many of the histories of the era.

The frustrated Henry finally gave up on ever securing a papal annulment, and in late 1532, he married Anne Boleyn, severing England from the authority of the Catholic church, and creating the Church of England, with himself at the head.

Katharine fully expected she and her daughter, Mary, would be martyred for their refusal to accept the
ruling on the marriage, or acknowledge Henry as head of the church. She watched with horror as some of her friends - some of the greatest minds of the age - went to the scaffold for the same stance. Her health was failing as she was shuffled from house to house in lonely exile.

When it became clear in 1536 that her end was near, Chapuys was allowed to visit Katharine again. His letter to Charles about this last visit is heart-rending. Chapuys genuinely loved this woman, and it bleeds through his words, even after five hundred years.

After I had kissed hands she took occasion to thank me for the numerous services I had done her hitherto and the trouble I had taken to come and see her, a thing that she had very ardently desired [...] I begged her to take heart and get well, if for no other consideration, because the union and peace of Christendom depended upon her life.

Katharine spent the next few days enjoying his visits in the afternoon, catching up on mutual friends and talking about the political situation. Bluntly put, Chapuys lied to her to try to make her last days happy. He told her the king was very sorrowful about her illness and was planning to move her to better quarters nearer to her daughter, and that the French appeared to be on the verge of turning their backs on the alliance with Henry, while the Pope was preparing to move in favor of her case. Katharine seemed "quite satisfied" by this, but said her conscience was troubled by all of the heresies and turmoil which had arisen because of her case. Right or wrong, the English reformation was as much Katharine's creation as it was Henry's.

And as to the heresies here [I said] she knew well that God said there must of necessity be heresies and slanders for the exaltation of the good and confusion of the wicked, and that she must consider that the heresies were not so rooted here that they would not soon be remedied, and that it was to be hoped that those who had been deluded would afterwards be the most firm...

Chapuys stayed as long as he dared, and finally departed, leaving Katharine very "cheerful," and hopefully to recover. When he arrived at the palace, he sent a thank-you to Cromwell, and got tragic news in response.

He sent to inform me of the lamentable news of the death of the most virtuous Queen, which took place on Friday the morrow of the Kings, about 2 p.m. This has been the most cruel news that could come to me, especially as I fear the good Princess will die of grief, or that the concubine will hasten what she has long threatened to do, viz., to kill her; and it is to be feared that there is little help for it.

Chapuys's grief over Katharine's death was partly transmuted into anger at Anne Boleyn, whom he was convinced had murdered Katharine, and intended to move onto the princess next as her next victim.

[T]he Concubine (who has often sworn the death of both, and who will never be at rest till she has gained her end, suspecting that owing to the King's fickleness there is no stability in her position as long as either of the said ladies lives), will have even better means than before of executing her accursed purpose by administering poison, because they would be less on their guard; 

Chapuys was wrong on that point. Anne's status became instantly unstable the moment Katharine died, as became abundantly clear less than six months later.

But in the meantime, Anne was trying to repair relations between herself and Princess Mary. She attempted one last time to get Mary to cooperate.

The Concubine, according to what the Princess sent to tell me, threw the first bait to her, and caused her to be told by her aunt, the gouvernante of the said Princess, that if she would lay aside her obstinacy and obey her father, she would be the best friend to her in the world and be like another mother, and would obtain for her anything she could ask... 

Chapuys reports a little later that Mary found a letter written by Anne to her governess in which Anne told her to cease all pressure on her to bow to the will of her father. Chapuys wonders in his report if it was a ruse of some sort, intentionally planted for Mary to find. But to what purpose?

Around Easter, Chapuys was indignant at being forced to acknowledge the "Concubine." He had managed to avoid her at court all this time, and had never spoken to her personally, despite his close association with the inner workings of the court. George Boleyn escorted Chapuys to mass, and as they were leaving, intentionally steered him toward a door where Anne was exiting the chapel. Confronted with a face-to-face encounter, Chapuys had no choice but to bow to her and exchange courtesies. It was significant that the ambassador - and representative - of the Emperor had acknowledged Anne Boleyn as queen of England. It was a somewhat underhanded victory for Anne, but a victory none the less.

But less than two weeks later, Anne Boleyn was arrested on trumped-up adultery and incest charges. Chapuys was gleeful at Anne's ruin, as to be expected, but was quite cynical about how it was accomplished.

[T]his King, as I have been for some days informed by good authority, had determined to abandon her; for there were witnesses testifying that a marriage passed nine years before had been made and fully consummated between her and the earl of Northumberland, and the King would have declared himself earlier, but that some one of his Council gave him to understand that he could not separate from the Concubine without tacitly confirming, not only the first marriage, but also, what he most fears, the authority of the Pope.

So, adultery it was. Much easier than all that troublesome legal wrangling that might get him into sticky situations.

Chapuys lays out Henry's gross hypocrisy and deceptions in blunt detail.

You never saw prince nor man who made greater show of his cuckold’s horns or bore them more pleasantly. I leave you to imagine the cause ...
Although the generality of people here are glad of the execution of the said concubine, still a few find fault and grumble at the manner in which the proceedings against her have been conducted, and the condemnation of her and the rest, which is generally thought strange enough.
People speak variously about the King, and certainly the slander will not cease when they hear of what passed and is passing between him and his new mistress, Jane Seymour. Already it sounds badly in the ears of the public that the King, after such ignominy and discredit as the concubine has brought on his head, should manifest more joy and pleasure now, since her arrest and trial, than he has ever done on other occasions, for he has daily gone out to dine here and there with ladies, and sometimes has remained with them till after midnight.

I hear that on one occasion, returning by the river to Greenwich, the royal barge was actually filled with minstrels and musicians of his chamber, playing on all sorts of instruments or singing; which state of things was by many a one compared to the joy and pleasure a man feels in getting rid of a thin, old, and vicious hack in the hope of getting soon a fine horse to ride—a very peculiarly agreeable task for this king.

Despite the king's coy protests he didn't want to marry again, everyone knew that Jane Seymour was already getting ready for her wedding. Chapuys wrote to Charles expressing doubts as to whether Jane could still be a virgin, having lived so long at court.

Perhaps this King will only be too glad to be so far relieved from trouble. Also, according to the account given of him by the Concubine, he has neither vigour nor virtue; and besides he may make a condition in the marriage that she be a virgin, and when he has a mind to divorce her he will find enough of witnesses [to say she isn't.]

After Anne's death, the pressure on Princess Mary didn't magically disappear. If anything, it only increased. Chapuys managed to persuade Mary to capitulate.

On this I wrote to her very fully, telling her, among other things, that she must make up her mind if the King persisted in his obstinacy, or she found evidence that her life was in danger, either by maltreatment or otherwise, to consent to her father's wish, assuring her that such was your advice, and that, to save her life, on which depended the peace of the realm and the redress of the great disorders which prevail here, she must do everything and dissemble for some time, especially as the protestations made and the cruel violence shown her preserved her rights inviolate and likewise her conscience, seeing that nothing was required expressly against God or the articles of the Faith, and God regarded more the intention than the act; and that now she had more occasion to do thus than during the life of the Concubine, as it was proposed to deprive the Bastard and make her heiress, and I felt assured that if she came to court she would by her wisdom set her father again in the right road, to which the intercession of your Majesty through the reconciliation and establishment of amity would conduce.

The Princess, being informed from various quarters how matters stood, signed the document without reading it. For her better excuse I had previously sent her the form of the protestation she must make apart. I had also warned her that she must in the first place endeavour to secure the King's pardon (grace), and, if possible, not give her approval to the said statutes except so far as she could do so agreeably to God and her conscience, or that she should promise only not to infringe the said statutes without expressing approval.

Chapuys witnessed the parade of queens after Anne Boleyn and reporting with his usual cynical spin. He worked without qualms in the interest of his Emperor, leading Lord Paget to write that Chapuys was:

" who would speak [with greatest license] whatsoever came [into his mouth], without respect of honesty or truth, so it might serve his turn.... He is a great practicer, with which honest term we cover tale-telling, lying, dissimuling, and flattering."

Chapuys probably would have cheerfully admitted to it. He was in a court of dissemblers, led by the greatest dissembler of them all, Henry VIII, and he did not hold back in using such tactics himself to achieve the aims of the Emperor.                      

In 1545, failing health led to Chapuys being released from service and he retired to Louvain (Leuven) in what is now Belgium. His investments and income from various ecclesiastical posts had made him a wealthy man, but his only son - an illegitimate boy named Césare - had died. He decided to use his wealth to found a grammar school in his hometown, and a college in Louvain for students from his native Savoy.

The college was small, intended for only about 30 students at a time. It consisted of three buildings: a dormitory, a chapel, and a library. It specialized in theology and philosophy, and appears to have operated until it was confiscated by the French in 1797. Afterwards, it became private property, passing through generations of owners who put it to various uses before being donated to the city of Leuven in 1917 for use as a museum. Most of it was demolished in the 1920s, and only the gatehouse of the original complex survives.

When he died at age 67 in 1556, Eustace Chapuys had lived long enough to see the princess he had championed become Queen Mary I. He was buried in the college's chapel, which no longer survives. His tomb is lost.

No comments:

Post a Comment