Henry VIII’s final years were overshadowed by financially ruinous wars with France and Scotland that would leave England crippled with debt. By 1544 relations between England and France had deteriorated sufficiently for the threat of war to become a reality; the King had built a ring of defensive castles along the south coast in anticipation of a French invasion, and was now planning to invade France himself.
In February 1544, Parliament passed a new Act of Succession, so that there should be no disputes over who was to succeed Henry should he not return alive from France. The Act settled the succession firstly on Prince Edward and his heirs, secondly on the Lady Mary and her heirs, thirdly on the Lady Elizabeth and her heirs, and finally on the heirs of Henry’s younger sister, the late Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk.1 The heirs of his elder sister, Margaret Tudor, who had died in 1541, were passed over because Henry had no intention of uniting England and Scotland under Stewart rule, but was still aggressively pursuing his intention of marrying Edward to the little Scots Queen. The arrangements made in this Act reflect the fact that Henry’s authority was now so absolute as to override the long-established laws of primigenitural succession. They may also reflect the benign influence of Katherine Parr.
In February, as preparations for war went ahead, the King’s leg swelled up and laid him feverishly low again, confining him to bed for eight days, and leaving him “a little indisposed” for a while afterwards. In order to nurse and cheer him, the Queen had her own bed moved into a closet leading off his bedchamber,2 and she was seen sitting with his bad leg on her lap. Her accounts show payments to the royal apothecaries for suppositories, liquorice pastilles, cinammon comfits, plasters, and sponges. 3 When Henry eventually emerged from his privy lodgings in March, he was “so weak on his legs that he could hardly stand.” Chapuys believed that his “chronic disease and great obesity” were putting his life at risk and should be urgently remedied, “yet no one dares to remonstrate with him.”4
On 17 February, while the King was ill, there arrived at court the Spanish Duke of Najera, a special envoy from Henry’s ally, Charles V. The Duke was graciously received by the Queen and the Lady Mary, to whom he was conducted by Chapuys. Najera’s secretary, Pedro de Gant, left an account of the visit. He describes Katherine’s rich gown of crimson and cloth of gold with a golden girdle and a train two yards long, which was set off by two crucifixes and a jewel set with magnificent diamonds, all hung about her neck; there were “a great number of splendid diamonds in her head-dress also.” The Lady Mary looked splendid in cloth of gold and purple velvet.5
After the Duke had kissed the Queen’s hand, she led him into another chamber where he was entertained for several hours with music and “much beautiful dancing.” Although the Queen was feeling unwell herself, she danced “very gracefully, for the honour of the company” with her brother Essex, while the Lady Mary partnered Lady Margaret Douglas and then paired up with some gentlemen of the court, one of whom, a Venetian, danced galliards “with such extraordinary activity that he seemed to have wings on his feet.” As the evening drew to a close, the Queen summoned a Spanish-speaking nobleman to present her gifts to the Duke, then rose and offered Najera her hand to kiss. “He would have kissed that of the Princess Mary, but she offered her lips, and so he saluted her and all the other ladies.”6
A day or so later, Najera received a summons to attend upon the King in his privy lodgings at Whitehall. “Before the Duke arrived at the King’s chamber, he passed through three salons hung with tapestry, in the second of which [the watching chamber] were stationed in order on either side the King’s bodyguard, dressed in habits of red and holding halberds. In the third salon [the presence chamber] were nobles, knights and gentlemen, and here was a canopy made of rich, figured brocade, with a chair of the same material. Here, the brother of the Queen and other noblemen entertained the Duke for a quarter of an hour until it was announced that we should enter the chamber of the King [i.e., the privy chamber].” Pedro de Gant was mortified when only two Spanish nobles were permitted to accompany Najera “and no one else, nor did they permit us even to see the King.”7
As the future King’s uncle, the Earl of Hertford was one of the most important men at court, but he lacked the qualities that made a good political leader. By 1544, he had alienated many: Norfolk, Gardiner, and Wriothesley had long been his enemies, but he had also managed, through his high-handedness and lack of tact, to incur the enmity of most members of his own faction. In March, he quarrelled with Lord Russell, whom he accused of failing to act in his interests with the King, concluding that Russell, “a feigned friend,” must bear him “malice or grudge.” Thanks to the efforts of Paget and Wriothesley, a reconciliation was effected, but resentments still simmered beneath the surface.8
It was as well, therefore, that, in the spring, Hertford—on Norfolk’s recommendation—was given joint command with Lisle of the King’s armies and sent north to force the Scots to agree to the proposed marriage alliance; after they had sacked Edinburgh and ruthlessly laid waste the Scottish lowlands, the campaign became known as “England’s rough wooing.”
On 22 April, Lord Audley died. The following month, the able but unscrupulous Wriothesley was chosen to replace him as Lord Chancellor, and was invested with the Great Seal of England by the King in a ceremony in the privy chamber. Henry perhaps chose Wriothesley because he knew him to be vigorously opposed to heresy, and because he hoped this would counterbalance the influence of the powerful reformist party. His appointment came at a time when Gardiner’s supremacy was weakened as a result of his having shielded his papist nephew Germain Gardiner from prosecution. After Germain had been executed, Suffolk persuaded the King to proceed against Gardiner as a traitor, but the Bishop’s friends in the Privy Chamber, “suspecting the matter, sent him word thereof.” Gardiner hurried to the King, confessed all, begged for forgiveness, and was pardoned.9 This is a typical example of Henry playing off one faction against the other.
In 1544, the King conceived the idea of an English Litany (service book), and commanded Archbishop Cranmer to prepare it. The ultimate result, which Henry did not live to see, would be the beautifully written Book of Common Prayer, still used on occasions by the Church of England today. In May, the Queen published a book of Psalm Prayers, selected and paraphrased by herself, which was printed by Thomas Berthelet and bound with gilded leather. Her Almoner, George Day, was to use it on a regular basis.
Henry was determined to lead the invasion himself, and as the time for his departure drew near, he seemed to be invested with a new zest for life. There were a few details that needed to be attended to before he left, however. At the end of June, he and the Queen were present at the wedding of his niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, to Matthew Stewart, fourth Earl of Lennox, in the chapel royal at St. James’s Palace. This marriage had been arranged because Lennox was one of the few Scots peers who supported Henry’s plan to ally the two kingdoms under Tudor rule. After the wedding, Lennox returned to Scotland to plot on Henry’s behalf, but was discovered, attainted, and exiled to England, where he lived with his wife at Temple Newsham House near Leeds. Their first son, born in 1545, was named for the King.10
On 7 July, Henry appointed Katherine Parr Regent of England in his absence and settled upon her the manors of Hanworth, Chelsea, and Mortlake. 11 Hertford, who would have preferred to make peace with France, was to remain in England and serve in a subordinate role as Lieutenant of the Realm; he later joined the King at Boulogne.
On 14 July, Henry sailed for Calais, having made detailed plans for the campaign and sent ahead maps and instructions for his captains. His broad knowledge of fortifications, projectile warfare, and military strategy would serve his armies well. His armour had been burnished to perfection by his Master Armourer, Erasmus Kyrkenar.12 The war was popular with his courtiers, many of whom had already received knighthoods and prestigious military commands and so had a vested interest in it.
Privately briefed by Chapuys, Charles V had been certain that Henry’s bad leg and unwieldy bulk would prove a drawback. But the King was feeling reinvigorated at the prospect of taking the field again, and displayed much of his old energy, riding from Calais into French territory at the head of his army, “armed at all pieces upon a great courser,” with a heavy musket laid across his saddle; behind rode an officer carrying the royal helm and lance. Henry’s gun and lance were later displayed in the Tower armoury, and those who saw them marvelled that any man could lift a lance of such huge dimensions. At the siege of Boulogne which followed, Henry remained active from dawn until dusk. Prior to his departure, Hertford had found him “merry, and in as good health as I have seen His Grace at any time this seven year,” 13 while Chapuys confessed himself staggered by Henry’s unexpected stamina.14 From England, the Queen wrote, “I rejoice at the joyful news of your good health.” Nevertheless, it was quite an operation to winch Henry, in full armour, onto his horse, and during the siege of Boulogne his leg became so painful that his armour had to be cut away to relieve the pressure.
While Henry was in France, he exchanged regular and affectionate letters with Katherine Parr, who was staying at Hampton Court with his children. She kept him up to date with news of their progress, assuring him they were all, “thanks be to God, in good health,” and asked for his approval for the replacement of certain ladies of her household “that cannot well give their attendance by reason of sickness.” Henry felt that the substitutes she had suggested were in equally frail health and not really suitable for royal service; yet, he wrote, “we remit the accepting of them to your own choice. You may, if you think so good, take them into your chamber to pass some time with you at play or otherwise to accompany you for your recreation.”
There was another outbreak of plague in London that summer, so the Queen and her stepchildren departed on a short progress, staying at Enfield en route for Oakham Castle, where they were the guests of the Countess of Rutland, who was thrown into a panic at the prospect of their coming and begged her father to send her fresh fish, “as here is small store, and the court is merry!”15 No one who had been in contact with the plague was permitted anywhere near anyone from the court, “under the Queen’s indignation and further punishment at her pleasure.”16 Fortunately, this was a mild epidemic, and Katherine was able to return to Greenwich in August.
While the King acted as commander in chief, the redoubtable Duke of Norfolk, aged seventy-one, served as lieutenant-general of the army in France, and Suffolk, now sixty, was given command of the forces that besieged Boulogne, among whom were the Gentlemen Pensioners. John Dudley, Lord Lisle, also distinguished himself during the campaign, enhancing his already formidable reputation as a soldier. Surrey, who had seen active service in the Emperor’s army the previous year, and had rashly exposed himself to enemy fire so as to boost his chivalrous reputation,17 served as Marshal when Norfolk besieged Montreuil, and again made a bid for glory, narrowly escaping death when he led what was meant to be a decisive assault on the town. His rival, Sir Thomas Seymour, served as Lord High Admiral. The artist Girolamo da Treviso was killed during the siege of Boulogne, where he was employed as a military engineer.
Boulogne fell on 14 September, followed soon afterwards by Montreuil. A sword made for Henry by the Spanish craftsman Diego de Çayas, in commemoration of his victory at Boulogne, is still in the Royal Collection at Windsor.
The campaigning season over, the King returned in triumph to England on 30 September. On his way home, he was reunited with the Queen at Leeds Castle in Kent and held a meeting of the Privy Council there, at which the Emperor’s special envoys formally took their leave of him. His glazier Galyon Hone had made decorative glass for the banqueting hall, private apartments, and chapel in readiness for this visit.18 Henry then spent what was left of the autumn hunting.