Sir Thomas More as he prepared to climb the scaffold, resigned to his fate, stopped for a moment and said for all to hear. ‘I pray you; I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down, I can shift for myself.’ He had been found guilty of treason, the penalty for which was execution, and indeed a few moments later, he did come down – dead.
Executed; Bishop John Fisher
Bishop John Fisher had suffered the same fate two weeks earlier, having spent over a year’s imprisonment in the Tower of London’s Bell Tower, custodial punishment for opposing the new anti-papal regime. In May 1535, Pope Paul III, in a move intended to deter the infliction of capital punishment on him, had created Fisher Cardinal Priest of San Vitale. This was a promotion within the Roman Church that infuriated – or perhaps fell into the hands of – Henry VIII’s government. Henry VIII, it is said, ruled against the delivery of the cardinal’s new hat to England. Instead, he would send Fisher's head to Rome. This was the religious and political atmosphere in England in July 1535.
Francis I, King of France.
Would Pope Paul III really call upon Anne de Boulogne's patron to execute the papal bull and deprive Henry VIII of his kingdom?
And so, it was, in an act, that in turn, incensed Roman Christendom, Fisher was executed. If this were a ploy to have their king excommunicated the incoming Seymour – Cromwell regime, by executing a cardinal, was certainly a bold way of going about it. The previous pope, Clement VII’s 1533 bull of excommunication had not been enforced. Would the deaths of More and Fisher compel the new pope, Paul III to deprive Henry VIII of his kingdom? If so, who could Paul call upon to execute the sentence?
Only two people might have the power to do that; Charles, Holy Roman Emperor Anne de Boulogne’s patron Francis the King of France.
Anne de Boulogne Upriver from the Tower at Windsor Castle, the wholly French Anne de Boulogne prepared to depart with the king, the court and the entourage of a thousand or more. They would be away until the end of October. The Fisher and More executions ripped the heart out of the Catholic resistance to Henry VIII’s supremacy over the English clergy. The break from Rome had facilitated Anne’s marriage to the king, but that union, from the outset, was a miserable one. Anne’s efforts to arrange a marriage for her baby daughter Elizabeth into the French royal family had failed – Thomas Cromwell had seen to that. Anne had wanted reform in the church in a way that her mentor Marguerite of Angoulême advocated in France, which included retaining monastic buildings for her brand of religious learning. The political landscape, however, had changed since the break from Rome. Anne’s sponsors were the French royal family, she had been introduced by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to hold sway over the fickle King of England, but now Parliament, since Wolsey’s fall, had gained the upper hand with Henry and she and her brother George were becoming marginalised.
Thomas Cromwell M.P. for Taunton
Thomas Cromwell M.P. for Taunton The mainstay of the new power group was the M.P. for Taunton, Thomas Cromwell, and within his party he could boast of some wealthy, influential landowners, many of who were based in the west of England, and they wanted to be rid of the wholly French queen and her Francophile ideas for reform of the church. Thomas More had been one of the most ardent critics of events surrounding Anne’s marriage to Henry, but she now faced an even more rigorous test, a battle for her reputation and a desperate fight for her life. On this tour she was heading into the heartland, the inner sanctum of her new enemies, not least of who were the Seymours of Wolf Hall.
Wiltshire boasted vastly more Members of Parliament than any other county.
Visitation of the Monasteries
The visitation of the monasteries was underway, also advancing west, ahead of the royal train. The Cromwell – Seymour regime wanted them closed, sold and demolished. Cromwell intended to bring forward a bill in Parliament that November to serve their purpose. It was no coincidence that Seymour territory, Wiltshire, was the wealthiest and most influential county in the kingdom and boasted vastly more Members of Parliament than any other.
The Road to Reading Abbey
Perhaps a mile to a mile and a half in length, the train of the royal progress left Windsor on the first leg of the tour, destined for Reading Abbey, a journey of a little under eighteen miles. At a steady walking pace, the route could have been covered in about six hours, the precession, allowing for stops and a slower pace, would have probably taken eight to nine hours. At this time of year of course, in England, the daylight prevails well beyond nine in the evening.
Hundreds of carriages and carts laden with everything from clothes to tents, hunting gear to jewellery, chests full of coins, the king’s bed and probably a kitchen sink or two rumbled through the Berkshire countryside.
Westward to Oakley Green and on to Touchen End. They followed the road to the right ‘riding under the louring skies and heavy foliage of an unusually wet summer,’ the great entourage was on its way. At Reading Abbey, the first night’s stopover.
A panorama of tents pitched all about the grounds, a patchwork of colours and a concoction of sizes, hammers and mallets clouted tent pegs, hundreds upon hundreds of campfires, smoke wafted, in pans food simmered, dogs barked, the sound of a crowd, whistles, shouts and hoots, a call to deliver up refreshment and beer casks were cracked open.
And still, they came in from Windsor.
Henry I founded the abbey way back in 1120 as a Cluniac institution and donated towards the religious reform he wanted to instil there. The building began in 1121 and Henry endowed it with rich lands and extensive privileges. Henry I was the father of Queen Matilda, mother of the Angevin dynasty, father of Robert of Gloucester, and he is buried at Reading Abbey – in 1538 the abbey was dissolved. Anne would soon encounter the legacy of Queen Matilda, Robert of Gloucester and the nineteen-year war which prevented Eustace de Boulogne from seizing the Kingdom of England.
There were many days and many miles yet to pass by on the 1535 progress.