On This Day 28th July 1540
On 28th July 1540, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex was executed on Tower Hill. For nearly ten years Cromwell had been Henry VIII’s most valued servant and a prime contributor to the massive legislative and religious programme that had transformed the country. As a man of ‘low’ birth, he was not really accepted by Henry’s more aristocratic councillors, and nor was he popular in the country at large (although the London population valued his charity).
Over the centuries, Cromwell has generally been portrayed as ruthless and power-hungry, or at best an efficient and dull bureaucrat. Of late, the best-selling novels by Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall, and Bring up the Bodies, which have Cromwell as a rational and likeable protagonist, have inspired modern biographers to take a fresh look at him.
Whatever his character may actually have been, his talent and industry cannot be disputed – he rose from being the son of a small (and dishonest) trader in Putney, to being an Earl, a Knight of the Garter, and the King’s chief minister.
On This Day 27th July 1593
On 27th July 1593, William Davies, a Roman Catholic priest, was hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor at Beaumaris Castle (shown in picture) in Anglesey. Davies, who was in his mid-thirties, had been ordained at Rheims in 1585, before joining the English mission. A native of North Wales, he returned there to minister to a local population still broadly Catholic, with magistrates disinclined to enforce the law for church uniformity very strictly.
In 1586, the Government stepped up pressure on magistrates to implement the laws against ‘recusants and obstinate persons in religion’. Davies was warned of an impending arrest and managed to secrete himself on the Little Orme with his colleagues for a period of nine months, the local gentry effectively turning a blind eye. During this period, Davies and his companions probably printed the first Welsh book to be printed in Wales – Y Drych Cristianogawl (The Christian Mirror).
Davies was finally arrested in March 1592, for attempting to smuggle Catholics to France, via Ireland. Convicted of being a Catholic priest (by then an offence in itself), he was imprisoned first at Beaumaris, then in Ludlow. Returned to Beaumaris, the authorities tried to persuade him to attend the established Church just once, to avoid the death penalty. He refused. Soldiers from Chester had to be brought in to carry out the sentence.
On This Day 26th July 1525
On 26th July 1525, the Duke of Richmond's Household departed for Sheriff Hutton from Rye House, Hertfordshire (shown in the picture). The six year old duke was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount. Henry had begun to despair of having a legitimate male heir, and whilst his daughter, Mary, was sent to Wales, as de facto Princess of Wales, Richmond was appointed as President of the Council of the North.
The purpose of the Council was to show royal power in a part of the country that was far from London, and often difficult to rule. The man in charge of his household was Sir William Parr, and the Duke’s entourage stayed at Parr’s home at Rye House, where Sir William’s nephew, another William Parr, joined the ducal household. Many of the members of the Duke’s household later became supporters of religious reform. Richmond was to remain in the north for some years, but died young, in 1536, having married Mary Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, but never consummating the match.
Alison Weir is an historian and author of the Sunday Times bestselling Six Tudor Queens series. The final novel in this series, Katharine Parr: the Sixth Wife, was published on 13 May 2021. In this article Alison looks at a lesser-known time in Katharine’s life when she was caught up in the uprisings against Henry VIII in the north of England.Read article
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