Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Defying Henry VIII: Reginald Pole


Few people dared to challenge the authority of King Henry VIII of England. Of those few, most did not live long enough to regret it. Henry's vengeance burned furiously and unrelentingly. One man, who happened to be Henry's cousin, was the object of his anger for more than twenty years and was clever enough to survive.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Reginald Pole had not always been a target of Henry's fury. Born to Margaret Pole in 1500, Reginald was Henry's cousin, and the men shared interest in scholarship and theology. Henry's father had recognized great skill in Reginald and supported his studies from an early age. After the death of Henry VII, his son continued that support.With Reginald's mother the governess of Henry's only surviving child, Princess Mary, there was no reason to believe that Reginald need ever fear the wrath of his king.

Enter Anne Boleyn.

Once Henry VIII had been given the title Defender of the Faith by the Pope, but the middle aged king with an even older wife was tempted to break his marriage vows in order to satiate his lust and father a more worthy heir than the teenage daughter he already had. Reginald's faith, however, remained unshaken. Henry requested that Reginald write a defense of his plan to replace Queen Catherine with Anne, expecting that the years of friendship and support, not to mention their familial bond, would ensure Reginald's loyalty. Oh, if only he could have foreseen the drama he was unleashing throughout the Christian world.

Instead of supporting his king, Reginald wrote a fierce indictment of his plans to annul his marriage of more than twenty years. Without digging too deeply into the arguments over Henry's Great Matter, we can simply say that Reginald and Henry split, permanently and deeply. In 1526, Henry offered Reginald the Archbishopric of York to bargain for his loyalty. Reginald refused even that tempting bait.

Henry's battle to rid himself of Catherine took longer and had further reaching consequences than Henry could have imagined, but he was not a man to give in when he wanted something! He removed Reginald's mother, who was by this time Countess of Salisbury, from her position as Princess Mary's governess when Margaret too forcefully spoke up for Mary's rights. However, Henry seemed to carry on good relationships with Reginald's brothers, taking them on campaign in France and giving them positions at court. Meanwhile, Reginald remained safe in Italy.

Cappella di Reginald Pole, Rome
Maybe I should say that he was relatively safe. Reginald had to evade the efforts of English assassins on multiple occasions. One was a man more famous as a poet than diplomat or spy. Thomas Wyatt was no more successful than anyone else Henry sent to rid him of his turbulent priest. In 1536, Reginald was so thankful to have escaped another attempt on his life that he had the Cappella di Reginald Pole built near Rome. This small chapel stands there (now within city limits) to this day.

This peace did not last for the Pole family. In 1539, Reginald rejected Henry's offer of the Bishopric of Salisbury, knowing that returning to England would mean his imprisonment and probable death. Angered by this and his family's continued support of Mary (and whispered rumors that they wished to see her married to Reginald) and their continued adherence to the Catholic faith, Henry persecuted what members of the Pole family he could get his hands on. In a debacle that would become known as The Exeter Conspiracy, Geoffrey Pole was imprisoned and tortured and Henry Pole was executed. Margaret, in her sixties by this time, was also arrested.

After his brother's execution, Reginald and was attainted in absentia. Henry even executed Reginald's elderly mother in 1541. No doubt remained that he could never return to his homeland.

Reginald was forced to travel separate of his fellow cardinals with a troop of 25 horseman guards when he participated in the Council of Trent in 1546. They took a secret route in order to avoid assassins. Those who lived in Viterbo, where Reginald governed as papal legate, knew to report any strangers in the area who might have been sent by the English king.

What finally allowed Reginald to move freely and eventually return to England was the death of King Henry in January 1547. During the short reign of Edward VI, Reginald exchanged letters with the Duke of Somerset and the king himself, but he was hesitant to return due to the religious reforms taking place. Of course, he also had his own work keeping him busy, which included the papal conclave of 1549-1550 that almost elected him Pope.

Reginald did finally return to England in 1554. He was not wed to Mary, now queen, as many had hoped. Instead, she made a disastrous match with Prince Philip of Spain and Reginald became Archbishop of Canterbury. Reginald died of natural causes (quite an accomplishment for a man with York blood in the Tudor era) on November 17, 1558, the exact same day as Queen Mary, ending the counter-reformation in England.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thomas Wyatt: Poet & Assassin

Thomas Wyatt the Elder
Say the name Thomas Wyatt and one of two things likely come to mind: poetry and Anne Boleyn. That the famous courtier was in love with Henry VIII's second queen is not doubted, but just how far their relationship ever went is a topic for another day. More interesting, at least in my opinion, is that Thomas Wyatt was one of several men sent by the tyrannical king on a mission to assassinate Cardinal Reginald Pole.

This is the sort of fun little tidbit I love to stumble across. I think many of us have a romantic impression of poor Thomas Wyatt, forced to step aside and leave his lady love to the desires of his king. (There are also rumors that Henry considered Wyatt's wife, Elizabeth, as his sixth wife!) The image of Wyatt as a sneaky murderer, albeit want-to-be murderer, was a bit more difficult to conjure up.

A good way to rid oneself of the presence of a romantic rival in the 1530s was to send him on a diplomatic mission. At that time, King Henry VIII just happened to have lots of need for diplomacy, and Wyatt's skill with words was more appreciated by the king in that arena than in writing poetry to his latest wife. Wyatt's initial goal was to convince Charles V of Spain that he should not invade England. Since Reginald Pole was one of the people arguing for that action, and he just happened to have as much (or more) royal blood than the king, he became a target.

Of course, Reginald Pole was not the only one encouraging those princes who remained loyal to the Papacy to invade England, but Henry heard Reginald's voice the loudest. It is often said that we are hurt most by those closest to us, and Henry and Reginald were close. Cousins with a common ancestor in Richard Duke of York, the men had grown up with a shared heritage. Reginald's mother was lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of York, Henry's mother, and governess to Princess Mary, his daughter. Henry had also supported Reginald's education, as his father had done before him....up until the point Reginald turned against him.

It had been natural for Henry to request that Reginald write a defense of his desired divorce from Catherine of Aragon. What he didn't count on was Reginald having a mind of his own.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
In De Unitate Ecclesiastica Pole wrote at length about the evil that Henry was perpetrating against his kingdom, the church, and his God. This no-holds-barred attack was intended to bring the king to repentance, but it only served to bring his wrath against the entire Pole family. While Reginald was safe in Italy, Henry had Reginald's oldest brother, Henry Pole, and cousin, Henry Courtenay, executed under trumped up charges of treason supported by the forced evidence given by his younger brother, Geoffrey.

In the meantime, Henry sent assassins after Reginald multiple times during the final decade of his life. He was obsessed with proving that nobody could speak against the King and Head of the Church of England. When others failed, he sent Thomas Wyatt.

According to John PD Cooper in his Propaganda and the Tudor State, "Wyatt himself managed to creep up to the quarters of one of Pole's agents operating on French soil, only to trip haplessly over the threshold and damage his leg, allowing the man enough time to burn his letters."

In 1539, Pole was informed that Wyatt was openly "swaggering about telling everyone how rich he was and how he, personally, was going to murder Cardinal Pole." (Graven with Diamonds, Shulman) Several attempts were made to kill the cardinal on the road during his extensive travels, and Pope Paul III provided him with the protection of bodyguards. The Cappella di Reginald Pole in Rome is a small chapel built to give thanks to God after a thwarted assassination attempt on the road between Rome and Viterbo.

 Before too long, Wyatt's failure to capture or kill Pole was interpreted as conspiring with him by the suspicious king the poet served. In January 1541, Wyatt was arrested and sent to the Tower, where he expected to meet his end as so many before him had regardless of the evidence, or lack thereof, against them. While he was imprisoned there, Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and Reginald's mother, was executed without trial with notice of only a few hours.

Fortunately for Wyatt, Queen Catherine Howard made an appeal for his life during her short tenure in favor. Her marriage to Henry turned out to be more beneficial for the poet than poor Catherine, as she soon found herself the king's second executed wife. Shortly after his release, Thomas Wyatt sickened and died at the age of 39. Reginald Pole went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Queen Mary I until he died on November 17, 1558.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Tudor Summit

I was honored to be a speaker at the Tudor Summit this past weekend. If you missed it, you can find my portion of the event here. I also recommend you join the Tudor Summit Facebook group to enjoy other speakers and great discussion of Tudor history.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Once a Queen: A Story of Elizabeth Woodville

A new Plantagenet Embers novella is available now!


Elizabeth Woodville is tormented by impossible choices.

Her husband is dead, and her sons have disappeared. Should she gamble her future upon her daughter, Bess, and a Tudor exile? Or should she trust her brother-in-law who has stolen the throne from her son?

Faced with events she cannot control, Elizabeth is forced to trust others in a way she never has before, sometimes with tragic consequences. She was once a queen, but now she is at the mercy of Fortune's Wheel, which seems to be turning at the beckoning of her enemies.

Elizabeth's story is a poignant tale of love, loss, and betrayal during the birth of the Tudor dynasty.

Once a Queen is a Plantagenet Embers novella and companion to 'Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York'. Now, read Elizabeth Woodville's side of the story.

'Wilcoxson is BRILLIANT at capturing Elizabeth. She wrote Elizabeth with amazing complexity: one one hand fragile and tender and tormented while being cold and cruel and hard as nails on the other. I don't know how she created that balance, but it's perfection.' ~ Author Stephanie Churchill

Once a Queen is available worldwide on Amazon Kindle. Coming soon to Nook at Barnes & Noble.

Follow Samantha on Facebook or Twitter for news on sales and new releases. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tudor Persecution of the Carthusian Monks

On February 1, 1535, King Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy came into force, and one of the first groups he proceeded against were the Carthusian monks. Although this order had long been a respected and peaceful group, Henry labeling himself 'Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England' made it possible for him to charge them with treason for their failure to accept his self-proclaimed level of spiritual power. His retribution was fierce and intended to be an example of any who considered refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy.

Three representatives of a Carthusian house attempted to compromise with Cromwell regarding the oath, but on April 26, 1535, they were sent to the Tower. On May 4th, after a farce of a trial, they were dragged by hurdle to Tyburn where they were hanged while still wearing their religious habits. Taken down while still alive, they were disemboweled, beheaded, and dismembered. Far from traitors, the monks were seen as martyrs of their faith.

Roman broadsheet of the martyrdom of the English Carthusians


Persecution of the Carthusian order was far from complete. Three more monks who refused the oath were chained to posts around the neck and legs and left in this state for weeks. They continued to refuse the oath, but the king and Cromwell were aware that the savagery of the first execution had created public sympathy for the men of faith rather than the king. Efforts to convert the men continued through house arrest, threats, and lectures on the king's supremacy. The monks who continued to refuse the oath were chained to pillars in the dungeon of Newgate and starved to death. Two more were hanged in chains from the city walls at York until they died.

The Carthusian houses fell to King Henry as some took the oath in fear and others fled to Bruges for safety. A small community of English Carthusians remained in Bruges until the reign of Queen Mary. When they began to arrive, they were housed in the Savoy by Queen Mary's Controller, Robert Rochester, whose brother had been one of the monks martyred at York. Mary and her key counselor on religious reform, Cardinal Reginald Pole, wished to reestablish the Carthusians but had also made promises to the purchasers of dissolved religious property that it would not be confiscated.

On November 17, 1555, The House of Jesus of Bethlehem of Shene was reestablished with Maurice Chauncy as Prior. Unfortunately, the restoration did not last long. Queen Mary and Reginald Pole, who was by that time Archbishop of Canterbury, both died on November 17, 1558. Queen Elizabeth forced the Carthusians into exile once more on July 1, 1559. There would be no return to England for them this time.