Sunday, January 21, 2018

Eustace Chapuys, RIP

Eustace Chapuys, the former Imperial Ambassador to the Court of St. James in England for Charles V, died on January 21, 1556 in Louvain. He had been at the English Court from 1529 until 1545, through all of Henry VIII's marriage (he left two years before Henry died):

Catherine of Aragon (1509-1533)
Anne Boleyn (1533-1536)
Jane Seymour (1536-1537)
Anne of Cleves (1540)
Katherine Howard (1540-1542)
Katherine Parr (1543-1547)

Amberley Publishing offers this survey of Chapuys' life and career in England:

The reports and despatches of Eustace Chapuys, Spanish Ambassador to Henry VIII's court from 1529 to 1545, have been instrumental in shaping our modern interpretations of Henry VIII and his wives. As a result of his personal relationships with several of Henry's queens, and Henry himself, his writings were filled with colourful anecdotes, salacious gossip, and personal and insightful observations of the key players at court, thus offering the single most continuous portrait of the central decades of Henry's reign. Beginning with Chapuys' arrival in England, in the middle of Henry VIII's divorce from Katherine of Aragon, this book progresses through the episodic reigns of each of Henry's queens. Chapuys tirelessly defended Katherine and later her daughter, Mary Tudor, the future Mary I. He remained as ambassador through the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, and reported on each and every one of Henry's subsequent wives - Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Katharine Parr - as well as that most notorious of ministers Thomas Cromwell. He retired in 1545, close to the end of Henry VIII's reign. In approaching the period through Chapuys' letters, Lauren Mackay provides a fresh perspective on Henry, his court and the Tudor period in general.

We know that he was good friend and supporter of Catherine of Aragon (since his master was her nephew). He visited her before her death and continued to assist her daughter. But did he therefore hate and disparage Anne Boleyn. Lauren Mackay wrote for History Today:

Cromwell’s involvement in Anne’s downfall became an obsession for one man, imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, but not for the reasons we might expect. Chapuys only actually met Anne once [in April 1535], but Anne fascinated the ambassador, whose reports have given us some of the most enduring and emotional scenes of her remarkable yet short reign. But Chapuys’ presence in Anne’s life has been given a more sinister aspect than it deserves. If we are to believe popular 18th-century historians, Chapuys was a gossip who loathed Anne and worked tirelessly to destroy her and even celebrated her death. If you believe such gossip, then this play would have its villain. But this wasn’t the case.

Countless letters and reports flew around and across Europe between ambassadors and monarchs, detailing Anne’s very public affair with Henry. Chapuys was perhaps the most prolific of these writers. He reported to his employer, Charles V, as well as his confidantes, Mary of Hungary, governess of the Lowlands, and other diplomatic colleagues, sometimes two or three times a day. It may be surprising to learn, however, that some of the most vitriolic reports about Anne’s appearance and scandalous behaviour were not written by Chapuys, but by French, Venetian and Spanish embassies. Judging from these reports, Anne was a favourite target of rumour-mongering and was generally most harshly judged by the English people and throughout Europe.

But perhaps it is an anonymous, unsigned report found among imperial documents and erroneously attributed to Chapuys (who always signed his letters) that has done the most damage. Referring to Anne’s coronation in 1533, the writer said: “The crown became her very ill, and a wart disfigured her very much. She wore a violet velvet mantle, with a high ruff (goulgiel) of gold thread and pearls, which concealed a swelling she has, resembling gotre (sic)”. It is a harsh report to be sure, but they were not Chapuys’ words.

Please read the rest there.

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