Henry VIII’s Health Deteriorating – The End Is Nigh – Battle for Control of the Future
While Seymour was working in France to secure his ambitions for power in the next reign, there were problems with the opposing Howard faction in England.
John Lascelles, who had given Cranmer the means to bring down Catherine Howard, was now the target of heresy accusations. To complicate matters further, a certain friend of his, Anne Askew, probably more correctly know as Anne Ayscough, a Lincolnshire neighbour of Charles Brandon’s widow and a confidante of Queen Katherine, had arrived in London to preach, all too loudly, the evangelist cause.
From the viewpoint of the regime-in-waiting, this was not the place and certainly not the time for Ayscough to vent her opinions. Seymour and his party hoped to effect a smooth, quiet and bloodless change of government, and she was stirring up trouble. The conservatives, headed by Gardiner and the Howards, were looking for ammunition to fire and somehow halt the impending Seymour government; Anne Ayscough was providing them with that ammunition.
Appeals for her to recant went unheeded and she would not be silenced; somewhat inevitably, she was arrested and interrogated. Claims of torture followed, and on 16 July 1546 she was executed by fire alongside John Lascelles. An account of her suffering torture has come down through the writings of John Bale, ‘bilious Bale’, a historian and dramatist and former prior of the Ipswich Carmelite house who was converted to the reformist cause by Sir Thomas Wentworth, first cousin to the Seymour brothers and of course the deceased Queen Jane. According to John Foxe, Queen Katherine was overtly
very much given to the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and that she, for that purpose, had retained divers well learned and godly persons to instruct her thoroughly in the same; with whom as, at all times convenient, she used to have private conference touching spiritual matters, so also of ordinary; but especially in Lent, every day in the afternoon, for the space of an hour, one of her said chaplains, in her privy chamber, made some collation to her and to her ladies and gentlewomen of her privy chamber, or others that were disposed to hear; in which sermons they ofttimes touched such abuses as in the church then were rife. As these things were not secretly done, so neither were their preachings unknown to the king; whereof, at first, and for a great time, he seemed very well to like.
Stephen Gardiner, however, was in the presence of Henry and Katherine when the conversation turned to religion. When Katherine left, Henry is reported to have said, ‘A good hearing, it is, when women become such clerks; and a thing much to my comfort, to come in mine old days to be taught by my wife.’
Gardiner rebuked the king for receiving religious instruction and teaching from his wife, a woman. He continued to hector the king about his naivety in allowing heretical opinions to infuse his court, saying that ‘the uttering thereof might, through her, and her faction, be the utter destruction of him, and of such as indeed did chiefly tender the prince’s safety’.
It seems Gardiner’s tactic of censuring the fickle king worked; Henry, in his humiliation, turned to bravado to save face and a warrant was issued, apparently with his signature, for Katherine’s arrest, ordering for her to be taken to the Tower and interrogated. Foxe explains that Katherine found out about the scheme.
In his account, someone dropped the arrest paperwork and so Katherine found out about the scheme and dashed off to Henry to apologise. ‘If your Majesty take it so’, quoth the queen, ‘then hath your Majesty very much mistaken me, who have ever been of the opinion, to think it very unseemly, and preposterous, for the woman to take upon her the office of an instructor or teacher to her lord and husband’.
Henry accepted the apology but had either forgotten that he had signed the arrest warrant or forgotten to cancel it, probably both, because the next day, 14 July 1546, the Lord Chancellor arrived in the royal garden with forty of Henry’s guards to arrest Katherine and the three ladies in her company: Anne Herbert (née Parr, Katherine’s sister), Lady Elizabeth Tyrwhitt and Lady Jane Grey. Henry intervened and with a pompous dressing down of the Chancellor sent the troops back to where they had come from.
This tale, says Foxe, ‘putteth me in remembrance of another like story of his wicked working in like manner, a little before; but much more pernicious and pestilent to the public church of Jesus Christ, than this was dangerous to the private estate of the queen’. Foxe had many a tale to tell but, whatever the truth of his accounts, Gardiner was correct: Katherine Parr was and had been from the outset at the heart of the Seymour family's ambition to rule England through the future Edward VI.