Posted By Claire on March 28, 2014
The name ‘Eustace Chapuys’ is well-known to any Tudor historian, researcher and reader of Tudor books. Chapuys is famous for his despatches, which are invaluable to those writing about Henry VIII’s reign and the lives of prominent members of Henry VIII’s court, but most people know very little about the man behind the letters because there has never been a book written about him before. Just as Catherine Fletcher ‘fleshed out’ Gregorio Casali, Henry VIII’s man in Rome, in her book “The Divorce of Henry VIII”, Lauren Mackay has brought Chapuys, Charles V’s ambassador in England, to life.
It would be easy for a book on an ambassador to be dry and ‘text-bookish’ in style, but Lauren’s book is highly readable. She handles her subject by focusing on Chapuys’ time at Henry VIII’s court and looking at Henry’s marriages through his eyes, with reference to the despatches he wrote during that time. However, the reader is also given details on Chapuys’ background, his relationships with his family and his life after his departure from Henry’s court. Although I was obviously interested in the chapters covering Henry VIII’s marriages, and obviously the chapter on Anne Boleyn’s downfall, my favourite chapters were the earlier ones about Chapuys’ early life and then the chapters on Chapuys’ relationships with Mary and with Cromwell. Those who watched “The Tudors” series saw Chapuys act as a kind of father-figure to Mary during the breakdown of her relationship with her father and Lauren gives the reader a real insight into their relationship and it is clear that Chapuys cared deeply for Mary and went out of his way to help her. Gone is the gossipy, cynical Chapuys of many people’s imagination and in his place is a man of integrity.
Inside the Tudor Court is divided into twelves chapters:
- A Game of Politics – Here, we are introduced to Chapuys and given details on his earlier life.
- The New Imperial Ambassador at Henry’s Court – This chapter sets the scene for Chapuys’ arrival in England in August 1529 by giving us details on Henry VIII’s quest for an annulment.
- Into the Fray – This covers Chapuys’ relationships with those helping the King with the annulment proceedings, the diplomatic wranglings of the time, and Katherine of Aragon’s reaction to events.
- Pawn to Queen – Lauren reminds us that Chapuys was “a key player in a wide and elaborate game of diplomacy” which involved Henry VIII, Charles V and the Papacy. This chapter also covers Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne, arrangements for Anne’s coronation, and the start of a relationship between Chapuys and Cromwell, a relationship which was both of business and friendship.
- Royal Rivals – Chapuys’ handling of Katherine of Aragon, following Anne Boleyn’s coronation, his concern for Mary’s welfare and status, the birth of Elizabeth, Chapuys’ account of the visit of the Admiral of France, and the bloody events of 1535.
- Around the Throne the Thunder Rolls – This chapter takes us from Katherine of Aragon’s death, and Chapuys’ thoughts on it, to the execution of Anne Boleyn. We see the events through Chapuys’ eyes, through his despatches, and we see his shock at the turn of events.
- Sacrifice – A chapter on Henry VIII’s marriage to Jane Seymour and Chapuys’ hope that Jane would help Mary. It ends with negotiations for a new marriage match after the death of Jane Seymour.
- Mary – My favourite chapter because it gives full details on Chapuys’ rather paternal relationship with Mary and the way that he protected her and kept her safe.
- Cromwell – Another insightful chapter on Chapuys’ relationships with prominent people, this time Thomas Cromwell. I didn’t realise until I read this chapter that the two men were actually friends who spent leisure time together. It also covers Chapuys’ recall from England.
- Violent Imprints – This chapter covers Chapuys’ return to England in 1540 after Henry VIII’s divorce from Anne of Cleves and the downfall of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine Howard, Margaret Pole’s execution and the downfall of Catherine Howard.
- Glory – Chapuys’ negotiations with Henry VIII in early 1542 and the subsequent alliance between Henry VIII and Charles V, Chapuys’ ill health, war with France and breakdown of Henry’s relationship with Charles V, and Henry’s marriage to Katherine Parr.
- Legacy – Chapuys’ preparations for his departure from the English court, his farewell to Katherine Parr and Mary, his role as advisor to Charles V, and his final years.
The book also contains a preface, chapter notes, bibliography and 28 colour illustrations.
As Lauren Mackay concludes, “The Tudor court through Eustace’s eyes is a court of colour, life, intrigue and human nature that resonates with us even today”, and this book is full of that colour, life and intrigue as Lauren brings Chapuys to life. An excellent book on a fascinating man.
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.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Also available as an ebook
Publisher: Amberley (February 2014)
Available at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or your usual bookstore.