The Tudor era saw many people making a litany of mistakes. These might have cost careers, they might have cost heads, they might have cost reputations – or they might have cost the people of England. When reading the histories of any Tudor monarch, it is common to encounter a figure – whether sovereign or subject – and silently mouth, ‘Stop! Don’t do it!’ Yet history doesn’t work that way. They always fumble. Here, then, is my rundown of ten Tudor blunders: the errors of judgement that strike me as the costliest – or bloodiest – of the era.
10. Disputing with Danger: Catherine Parr and Henry VIII
One might reasonably argue that marrying Henry VIII at all was a mistake – though if I were to include that, six entries on the list would be spoken for right off the bat. Besides, Catherine Parr – a devout evangelical – wouldn’t have considered her marriage to the king to have been a blunder. On the contrary, it is likely she perceived his interest in her as a sign of divine providence: a calling from God to perform her queenly role as His instrument. Catherine did, however, slip up – at least if John Foxe’s “Acts and Monuments” is to be believed. Foxe is our source for both the queen’s error and her ingenious means of recovering from it – and if Foxe’s tale is true (and, as the rest of this list indicates, it’s definitely in keeping with Henry’s character), then it illustrates how the king’s capricious temper could be both roused and assuaged.
The story goes that Queen Catherine Parr spent a great deal of time reflecting on the religious changes sweeping England, and considering her own role in advocating for them. This led Catherine to not only encourage her ladies to embrace the reformist movement but to try and convince the king of the rectitude of further evangelical reform. Naturally, this hardlyendeared her to the conservative faction at court who, having largely fallen behind the break with Rome, now sought to halt the tide of change. Led by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, this faction soured the ailing, ageing Henry against his wife and induced him to warrant an investigation into her supposedly subversive activities. Henry by this stage was entirely intolerant of contradictory opinions – especially from women – and he had made his own policies on the state and direction of England’s faith clear. Thankfully, Catherine was warned of her imminent arrest – by means of a copy of the warrant fortuitously being dropped near her chambers – and, after a brief (but understandable) near-breakdown, she gathered her wits and went to the king. Falling on her knees, she protested that he was ‘a prince of such excellent learning and wisdom’ that she’d hoped only to learn from him by engaging him in religious debate. Henry countered, ‘You are become a doctor able to instruct us and not to be instructed by us.’ Catherine was ready with a response: her husband, she claimed, had ‘much mistaken the freedom she had taken to argue with him.’ Far from being a proselytising religious meddler, she had only ever brought up matters of faith to divert him from his painfully ulcerous leg. ‘And is it even so?’ asked Henry. ‘Why, then, Kate, we are friends again!’ When the guards, blissfully unaware of this exchange, came to arrest her, Henry physically beat them out of the chamber. If the story is true, Catherine had erred in discussing religion with her husband; but she saved herself from the repercussions by appealing to his vanity. Others would be less lucky.
9. My Fair Lady: Anne Boleyn and courtly love
The reasons for Anne Boleyn’s downfall are hotly debated – but the means by which her opponents (chiefly her husband) brought her to the scaffold are clearer. I have elsewhere argued that the queen was entirely innocent of the charges of adultery and treason laid against her, and to now claim that she did in fact make a tremendous blunder might risk accusations of victim-blaming. On the other hand, it seems clear enough that Henry VIII and Cromwell did not invent their false accusations out of whole cloth. Anne, unfortunately, made a critical error (and not just in marrying Henry in the first place).
It seems clear to us – and it must have seemed clearer to Anne – that by early 1536, the queen’s former hold over her husband was weakening. Gone were the days of the late 1520s, when she had been the Lady Anne and Henry had played the part of the besotted suitor (and made a fairly convincing human being, for once, when doing so). Unfortunately, what Anne Boleyn seems to have done in response to her husband’s wandering eye is to engage in the entirely innocent – indeed, the expected and widely played – game of courtly love. This was not simply done to restore her self-confidence; these were the days before the concept existed. Rather, the queen appears to have been determined to reclaim the role of unattainable but much sought-after mistress. Her means of doing so included accusing the courtly gentleman (and her husband’s Groom of the Stool) Henry Norris of being in love with her, saying, ‘You look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the king but good, you would look to have me.’ She pointedly asked Francis Weston, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, why he had not yet married, only for him to indulge in the game by replying that he was too much in love with his royal mistress. A general air of forced frivolity and courtly flirtation abounded, with even a lowly groom and musician, Mark Smeaton, attempting to get in on the act (which was too much for Anne, who pointed to his status as debarring him from attemptsat high-ranking flirtation). It was all conventional stuff, and it was probably calculated to get Henry VIII’s attention. It did, but not in the way Anne expected. Rather than reigniting his passion by reminding him of his wife’s charms, it gave his minister Thomas Cromwell the means to accuse her of manifold adulteries. The queen had, like many, misjudged King Henry VIII. Like many, that misjudgement would cost Anne her life.
8. I’m Begging You For Mercy: Thomas Cromwell and the Cleves match
Thomas Cromwell was in many ways Henry VIII’s most formidable minister: to some, he is a wanton iconoclast; to others, a reforming visionary and genius administrator; to others still, a lowly thug who sought to line his own pockets. Whatever one thinks of Cromwell, his effectiveness cannot be doubted. His judgement, too, rarely failed him – rather, it led him to unexpected heights (culminating, briefly, in the earldom of Essex). When he did make a mistake, however, it was a costly one.
Cromwell was the driving force behind Henry VIII’s fourth marriage: to Anne of Cleves. His reasons for promoting the match were multiple: Anne’s brother was a prominent European Lutheran (at a time when England’s break with Rome might yet cost it long-term Catholic continental allies); that same brother was wealthy enough to provide a useful dowry; and the Truce of Nice (signed in the summer of 1538 between Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V) threatened to leave England friendless. More than that, having several well-positioned Cleves-ruled lands locked in an English marital alliance might provide an Anglo-friendly territory potentially of use against both Francis and Charles. The match therefore went ahead in early 1540 (by which time Henry had claimed to be in love with his bride’s portrait). Unfortunately for Cromwell, the Franco-Spanish peace – which had already shown itself more of a temporary entente – was already being stretched. Suddenly, Henry realised he might be left, in the event of a fresh outbreak of European hostilities, trapped in a firmly Protestant alliance. Such a thing would no longer be a bulwark against a united Catholic threat but an albatross preventing the English king from courting either one of the freshly disunited Catholic powers. Moreover, on meeting Anne Henry found no stirring desire to preserve the marriage for personal reasons. Cromwell was given the blame, and he would go to the block for his blunder – this despite one of his final acts being to secure his king an annulment. His last error, however, was still to come: he begged Henry VIII for mercy. Given his history of working for – and organising executions for – that monarch, he ought to have known better.
7: System Failure: Cardinal Wolsey’s reliance on Rome
If Thomas Cromwell was a more imaginative chief minister than his predecessor as Henry VIII’s right hand, Thomas Wolsey, then Wolsey can claim the honour of being the king’s longest serving one. Born in around 1473, Wolsey rose to prominence as an able administrator, a charming host, and a man absolutely committed to the Catholic Church in England: an institution which offered him a historically-accepted means of rising above his low-born station. Throughout his career, he was criticised as an alter rex: of being king of England, under the playboy Henry VIII, in all but name. This was unfair, as Henry, from his youth, knew his own mind, at least in matters of domestic and international importance. YetWolsey certainly gave the impression of enormous power, and it was a blunder on his part that he made no bones about showing off via vast building and memorialisation projects.
Wolsey’s greatest error, however, and the one that cost him his courtly career was simpler. Charged with shepherding through the annulment of Henry VIII’s first marriage, the cardinal calmly accepted the situation and assured his monarch that he could pull it off within the existing system. Thus, Wolsey, ever the diplomat and seasoned king’s man, set off on a protracted course of negotiations. He was determined that, despite Katherine of Aragon being aunt to the Holy Roman Emperor (who complicated matters by keeping the pope in his pocket following the Imperial army’s uncontrolled sacking of Rome), he, Wolsey, could bring about a legal separation. It was what his king wanted. Increasingly, it was what Wolsey needed. And it was, simply put, impossible. Pope Clement VII was habitually indecisive and was as determined to prevent a firm outcome to the divorce suit as Wolsey was to gain one. Cardinal Wolsey, however, could accept no other means of proceeding than manipulating, pleading, and negotiating his way through the sluggish Roman system. He would try to persuade the pope to refer the case to the English courts (with Wolsey himself then expecting to pronounce judgment in Henry’s favour); he’d try to have the dispensation which originally granted the Aragon marriage dismissed as incorrectly worded; he’d press Henry’s pet argument that the book of Leviticus rendered that dispensation void. All relied on Vatican acceptance. Any consideration of alternative means – a full break with Rome – was beyond Wolsey’s ken, despite his priding himself on advancing his king’s interests before his pontiff’s. His ultimate dedication to the traditional way of doing things would cost him, as Henry began to consider more radical means of dissolving his first marriage. Wolsey’s every attempt to bring the case to a satisfactory close would fail, and he would find himself summarily stripped of office and packed off to his archbishopric of York. There, he would blunder again – this time by courting public popularity and trying to reignite discussions with Katherine’s party, with a view to again making himself indispensable in ending the nullity suit. This too would fail and he would be called to London to answer for his actions, although he would die in Leicester on the journey south. Perhaps Wolsey’s biggest blunder was in really thinking himself indispensable to his sovereign.
6. Physician, Heal Thyself: Dr Lopez and spiery
Dr Roderigo Lopez (or Ruy Lopes, or Roger Lopus) was one of Elizabethan England’s most tragic figures. Born in Crato, Portugal, he was of Jewish origin and almost certainly kept up his family’s old faith privately – even after the Portuguese Inquisition forced him to flee to England and join the community of ‘marranos’, or crypto-Jews, resident in the country (open Judaism having been banned and the Jews officially expelled in 1290). Lopez was, by the medical standards of his day, talented and well-educated, and he rose to prominence in England as a society doctor. Alongside his medical practice (which soon grew to include such luminaries as Sir Francis Walsingham, Lord Burghley, and Queen Elizabeth herself), Lopez found himself employed on government business. In short, he became a spy – prized especially for his Portuguese connections. These became particularly useful when the Portuguese pretender António, Prior of Crato, who had been ejected by the conquering Philip II of Spain, washed up in England. Here was a chance for Lopez to support the fellow, whom Elizabeth’s government was keen to promote as Portugal’s true ruler. After all, it would be toEngland’s benefit if Dom António should prove a thorn in Philip’s self-aggrandising side, or if he might indeed regain his throne and oversee Anglo-Portuguese trading in a way advantageous to England. And Lopez himself could only benefit by allying himself with a man who promised hopes of a return to an Inquisition-free Portugal. Unfortunately, Dom António was something of a lame duck. During an embarrassing English-backed expedition, he failed to rouse any native Portuguese to rise in his favour. Thereafter, he and Lopez (who had assumed the role of his official ‘ambassador’) fell out.
Still, all might have been well for Dr Lopez, whose continued attendance on the queen spoke well for his future. Unfortunately, when the spymaster Walsingham died in 1590, the doctor was left somewhat rudderless. This did not, however, prevent him from continuing to engage in clandestine activities; in fact, he seems to have fancied himself as something of an early modern godfather when it came to intelligence work. This culminated in him engaging in discussions with numerous duplicitous agents, through whom he received a jewel belonging to Philip II. Lopez, acting under his own initiative – and hoping to curry favour with Lord Burghley – opted to promote the idea of Anglo-Spanish peace talks, no doubt expecting to gain applause – and prestige, and money for a comfortable retirement – on the back of their success. Any move for peace, however, was opposed by the war party in Elizabeth’s court. This included the impetuous Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. To Elizabeth’s horror, he announced in early 1594 that he’d discovered that Dr Lopez (who had also acted as Essex’s physician and betrayed his secrets to Lord Burghley and his son) was a traitor. Worse, Lopez had allegedly arranged with Philip II to poison the queen. The doctor had of course done no such thing, but rather stupidly he had passively accepted that the flamboyant Antonio Pérez, a traitor to Philip II currently residing in England, would have to die before Anglo-Spanish peace talks could commence. Lopez relied on Burghley to save him, but the old minister was too foxy to put his own neck – or his aspiring son Robert Cecil’s future career – on the line by admitting he had even tacitly allowed the queen’s doctor to continue in the intelligence game. Lopez’s spymaster – if Burghley had even condoned his spiery – made common cause with Essex, and the elderly doctor was brutally hanged, drawn, and quartered. It was a fate Dr Lopez need not have endured, had he simply given up the intelligence racket when Walsingham died. The vicious, bloodthirsty, antisemitic crowds only laughed when Lopez, stripped naked on the scaffold, cried out that he loved his queen as much as he loved Jesus Christ. That’s exactly, they thought, what a Jew would say.
5. Old Copper-nose: Henry VIII’s ‘Great Debasement’
Henry VIII was a spendthrift. In addition to lavishing money on displays of majesty, he ploughed it into foreign wars – when it suited him – and military fortifications (these being particularly necessary as the break with Rome had, to the paranoid king, made England vulnerable to united Catholic assault). All of this had to be paid for, and Henry’s solution was crippling to the English economy: it was to debase the coinage. It was a move that left England’s merchants abroad red-faced, and the image of Henry on newly-reissued and -minted testoons with a red-nose, as copper began to show through the thin layer of silver.
The goal of the debasement was to reduce the amount of precious metal present in English coins, thereby freeing up more of the good stuff for the Treasury (at the expense of the common people, who would see the money in their purses wither in value). The English goldstandard dropped and the silver standard plummeted. To the continent’s amusement, the value of English currency fell; in 1544, 1545, and 1546 it fell further. Henry was essentially raiding the pockets of his people – at home and abroad – to fund his foreign policy and his lifestyle. It would not be until late in the reign of Edward VI that attempts were made to halt the falling value of English coinage, but by then considerable damage to the country’s financial reputation and economic capabilities had been done. It would not be until the reign of Elizabeth I that the debased currency would be removed from circulation. As Anne Somerset makes clear in her biography of Elizabeth, this was one of the most laudable – and curiously unsung – policies of that queen’s long reign.
4. A Highland Fling for an Underage King: Henry VIII’s ‘Rough Wooing’
Volumes have been written on Henry VIII’s foreign policy, and by far the most closely critiqued episodes are his military adventures in France. In the British Isles, however, the king was not inactive. His efforts in Scotland, though, were as pathetic as they were fruitless; indeed, his non-military interventions, such as the promotion of English bibles and preachers north of the border, had more lasting political effects than his occasionally brutal, generally disorganised attempts at conquest. Throughout his life, Henry wavered between attempting to seduce the Scots (ruled, for much of his reign, by his nephew James V, son of his sister Margaret) with fair promises, and labelling them ‘rebels’ by falsely claiming suzerainty over the northern kingdom. His biggest blunder, though, came in the manner by which he attempted to marry off his son, Edward, to James V’s infant daughter, Mary (who became queen of Scots at six days old).
England and Scotland had long been at intermittent war with one another, and James V in fact died soon after his troops had been routed by a small English force at Solway Moss (with many Scottish soldiers fleeing, and several Scottish elites captured and sent south to be bribed by Henry). When a mortified James died after the 1542 battle – probably of dysentery – Henry saw his opportunity. The baby queen might now be married to Prince Edward and, in time, Scotland would be brought under English dominance. He immediately set about bringing this plan to fruition, turning his captive Scots into ‘assured lords’ who would be secretly paid to return home and advance the marriage suit. This was a task made somewhat easier by the weakness of the Scottish regent, the vacillating earl of Arran. It looked like a done deal when the Treaty of Greenwich (1543) was signed, which promised to deliver Mary to England when she was ten years old. Here, Henry blundered. His attitude, with a breath-taking lack of self-awareness, was that the Scots couldn’t be trusted to uphold their end of the bargain; he arbitrarily began demanding that the little queen be despatched south immediately. This only raised the ire of the Scots, who pronounced the treaty broken – by Henry – before it could even be ratified by parliament. The English king’s response was to declare a bloody war on Scotland, which Walter Scott later dubbed ‘the Rough Wooing’ (a take on the Earl of Huntly’s reputed words: ‘I hold well with the match but I like not the wooing’). This would only drive up resistance, as Mary’s spirited mother, Marie of Guise, channelled her considerable political skills into arranging a French match for her daughter. In the teeth of English aggression, Mary Queen of Scots, at five years old, was safely conducted to France to be reared as dauphiness-in-waiting. Henry’s horrifying orders of ‘fire and sword’ would outlive Mary’s escape from her native soil, and so too would they outlast Henry VIII(the war being continued until 1551 by Edward VI’s Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset). Yet it was a losing battle. Scotland, despite enduring a succession of occupations along an English pale, would not be conquered. Nor would the marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and Edward VI come to pass. From the beginning, Henry VIII had handled the proposed Anglo-Scottish match with all the grace and tact of a bear eating a wedding cake.
3. Making Martyrs: Mary I and the burning of heretics
Mary I of England is a monarch whom scholars such as Linda Porter (in her illuminating biography) have had cause to reappraise, recognising as they do the ‘firsts’ of her reign: she was the first fully-recognised English queen regnant; she was the first to adopt maternal imagery in building a monarchical image; she was the first to marry and yet retain her autonomy; she was the first to publicly woo the people and thereby win popularity as a ‘people’s queen’. Recognised also is the legacy of the Protestant John Foxe’s promulgation of the tired image of ‘Bloody Mary’ for what it is; the queen became a Catholic bogeywoman used to build a Protestant consensus, in a way that is now appreciated as, at least in part, a form of early modern propaganda.
However, it is unwise to go too far. Mary certainly did blunder in her attempts at Counter-Reformation. From a modern standpoint, of course, the concentrated burnings conducted primarily at Smithfield are a source of horror, especially given the ages of some of the victims. But, putting aside twenty-first-century attitudes, such punishments were not out-of-kilter with European approaches at this time. Heresy, from either or any viewpoint, was something to be rooted out. Nevertheless, it is clear that in overseeing this punishment for significant numbers of people within a short timeframe, however standard that was for the middle of the century, Mary handed her opponents a powerful tool, and they didn’t hesitate to wield it against her. Following her death, Protestant polemicists had a field day magnifying the casualties – and the horrors – of the late queen’s reign. At a time of heightened religious intolerance and invective (one thinks of the gory acts which both Catholics and Protestants delighted in accusing each other of throughout the period), she had given them all they needed to utterly destroy her memory and blacken her name. It would be ahistorical to wish that Mary had been more compassionate to ‘heretics’, and she could certainly not have foreseen her own early death; however, if she had relied on the flames a little less (and deportation, perhaps, much more), even English Protestants, cock-a-hoop when Elizabeth attained the throne and eager to rewrite history providentially, would not have been able to turn her into a monster.
2. Aske-ing for Trouble: Robert Aske
When Henry VIII moved his break with Rome on to a more landscape-altering – and locally felt – Dissolution of the Monasteries, it was bound to stir up trouble. Catholicism was by far the dominant faith in England in the 1530s, and the religious houses remained popular seats of learning, patronage, and hospitality. Evangelicalism was particularly weak in the north of England, and it was from there that the Pilgrimage of Grace – a grassroots movement aimed at halting the Dissolution, restoring Catholicism, and removing unpopular royal councillorslike Thomas Cromwell – began. Robert Aske, a lawyer and the son of a Yorkshire knight, initially resisted taking active part in what he suspected was a treasonable rebellion, but soon enough he was not only caught up in the movement but, articulate as he was, viewed as a leader. As the Pilgrimage – the name self-selected by the thousands of people on the march against London’s religious changes – moved southwards, it was unstoppable. A furious Henry was blind to this, though his military chiefs (among them Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk) were not. Henry’s captains treated with the rebels (as they saw them) and defanged the Pilgrimage before too much blood could be spilled. Aske asked for, and was granted, a safe conduct to meet with the king personally in order to air the movement’s grievances. This was granted, and a guile-filled Henry VIII entertained the rebellious leader at court over Christmas. All seemed well.
But Robert Aske was deceived in his king. When the confident lawyer began riding northwards again in early 1537, pockets of insurgents mistook his appearance as a signal to renew hostilities. This, undoubtedly, was exactly what Henry had envisioned: scattered groups of men might fruitlessly attempt to rise, be easily crushed (by royal forces which had now had time to organise), and Aske might be given the blame. For nothing did Robert Aske point out that he had actually tried to stop these latest uprisings. He was arrested, clapped in the Tower, convicted of treason, and then returned to York to be hanged in chains as an example to rebellious northerners. He had blundered in trusting Henry VIII. But so too had the Pilgrimage of Grace fouled up in stopping to treat with the king’s ill-organised men during that first confrontation, when it had the numbers to march on an unprepared London.
1. Unlucky Charms: Elizabeth and Essex
I’ve covered the history of Elizabeth and Essex elsewhere, and so here will focus only on the catalogue of mistakes each of them made in Ireland, which the queen saw as English property. The problem for the Elizabethan government was that vast swaths of Ireland resisted rule from London, and when they banded together, the prospect of liberty (from the Irish perspective) and rebellion (from England’s) was never far away. The Nine Years War (fought between 1593-1603) saw just such a convergence of Irish forces under the leadership of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. To the Irish, the war’s high point came with the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598, when 2000 English troops were killed. This victory only galvanised native support for Tyrone, and led Elizabeth into ever more trenchant efforts to bring what she considered her Irish rebels to heel.
The problem was that Elizabeth knew nothing about Ireland, at least in terms of understanding the country’s people (whom she considered uncivilised and devious) or its terrain (which was dangerous, oftentimes boggy, and unfamiliar to English soldiers). The problem of who ought to lead a campaign against the Irish was a perennial one, and in 1599 the queen despatched her on-again, off-again favourite, the high-minded but emotionally weak Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, across the water. With him went one of the largest English armies yet assembled. Yet, as Essex found to his cost, numbers weren’t enough. From the beginning, his campaign was hampered by poor planning, superior native knowledge of the country, and disease-ridden death marches which saw the army depleted before it had even fought a major battle. None of this was helped by the hectoring orders pouring in from London, where Elizabeth – an armchair general – demanded immediate results and raked hercommander over the coals for every error. Essex, of course, had made any number of mistakes – but his final one in Ireland was, ironically, probably the least bad path he could have taken. He met privately with Tyrone and the two reached a truce – very much in the teeth of the queen’s orders – before Essex fled Ireland (again against his revised orders to stay put) and returned to London. At Nonsuch Palace, he compounded his mistake in a foolish attempt to appear chivalrous: still mud-splattered and spurred, he burst in on the elderly Elizabeth at her toilette and poured out his woes. Although she put a brave face on this frightening humiliation, she soon banished Essex from court. He would fulminate in paranoid confinement before attempting a coup against the queen’s chief minister, Robert Cecil, which would ultimately lead to death on the scaffold. Elizabeth would have better luck in her next military commander in Ireland, Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy (an Essexian who had wisely distanced himself from the doomed favourite). Days after the queen’s death in 1603, Mountjoy would achieve a coup of a different kind by signing an end to the Nine Years War in Elizabeth’s name (Tyrone being unaware that she was dead). Throughout the Tudor period, the English attitude to Ireland was, quite simply, ignorant, misguided, and often stupidly, needlessly cruel.
Bonus: The Rose Without a Thorn: Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard is generally seen not as a failed politician (as Anne Boleyn often is) but as a tragic young woman. From her youth in the household of her step-grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, she was groomed, abused, and eventually set up on the royal stage with little say in the matter. However, that is not to say she didn’t make mistakes. For one thing, whether compelled to (by blackmail) or not, it was an error to employ her former ‘lover’ Francis Dereham (whom Catherine claimed, probably truthfully, had raped her in the days before Henry VIII had taken an interest in her) as her private secretary. More grievous a mistake still was her relationship, whether platonic or otherwise, with Thomas Culpeper.
Catherine was young and does not seem to have been aware of just how dangerous the royal court was, even as its mistress. Instead, she appears to have assumed that anything she did (and anything that might have been done to her) could be concealed, especially if all was kept between friends. When not being forced – by her rapid marriage to the king – to appear to welcome an obese, festering old man’s embraces, she solicited others (notable Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford) to assist her in keeping her friendship with Culpeper alive. In the end, the secrets all came tumbling out, and Catherine’s mistakes – chief amongst which was her erroneous belief that she could have, or could ever have had, a private life after marriage to Henry VIII – saw her to the block.
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Henry VIII readies England for war with France. The King’s chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey, prepares to open Parliament at Blackfriars. The eyes of the country turn towards London. But all is not well in Wolsey’s household. A visiting critic of the Cardinal is found brutally slain whilst awaiting an audience at Richmond Palace. He will not be the last to die.
Anthony Blanke, trumpeter and groom, is once again called upon to unmask a murderer. Joining forces with Sir Thomas More, he is forced to confront the unpopularity of his master’s rule. As the bodies of the Cardinal’s enemies mount up around him, Anthony finds himself under suspicion. Journeying through the opulence of More’s home, the magnificence of Wolsey’s York Place, and the dank dungeons of London’s gaols, he must discover whether the murderer of the Cardinal’s critics is friend or foe.
With time running out before Parliament sits, Anthony must clear his name and catch the killer before the King’s justice falls blindly upon him.