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Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, EnglandThis month that recognizes a new pope in our lifetimes is the month that marks the 477th anniversary of our ancestor’s knighthood.  Oddly enough, the two have something in common; the power of the Catholic Church.

Our ancestor was no friend of Rome.

The early days of Henry VIII’s reign

When Henry VIII came to power in 1509 there were “more than 850 religious houses in England.” He was a devout Catholic. On October 11, 1521, Pope Leo X granted Henry the title of Fidei Defensor – defender of the faith – for writing his “Declaration of the Seven Sacraments Against MartinLuther.”

A problem arose when Queen Catherine of Aragon – his brother’s widow – failed to produce the essential male heir. (Their daughter Mary did not count.) After years of miscarriages and stillbirths, the weary queen was entering menopause and our titillating cousin Anne Boleyn was holding out for marriage.

Henry insisted Pope Clement VII grant him a divorce on the grounds that he had married his brother’s wife. This should have been fairly easy; the Vatican was in the business of selling permissions and Henry had grounds. He cited the passage in Leviticus that says “If a man taketh his brother’s wife, he hath committed adultery; they shall be childless.”

Pope Clement was in no position to comply because he was under the control of Catherine’s nephew – Emperor Charles V of Spain.

Our Wyatt may have inspired the king’s break with Rome.

When Henry expressed extreme distress about being unable to get a divorce, Thomas responded “Heavens! That a man cannot repent him of his sins without the Pope’s leave.” I love that he could speak so freely with the king.

Henry and the Boleyn’s family priest Thomas Cranmer nurtured the seed Wyatt planted. Cranmer was made Archbishop of Canterbury; he annulled Henry’s marriage to Catherine so he could marry Anne.

At her coronation Thomas Wyatt took his retired father’s place as chief ewerer – “an office formerly of no small distinction” (Nott) and poured scented water over Anne’s hands. Considering their romantic history, that had to be an awkward moment on his end.

She was proud of the bulging belly she was sure cradled the essential prince. Princess Elizabeth was born on September 7, 1533, at Greenwich.

Dissolution of the Monasteries

We don’t know whether Henry’s Dissolution of the Monasteries was financial or spiritual. One would suspect both; he had squandered most of his father’s money and Rome had denied him what he most needed. But there was wealth in the churches.

The History Learning Site tells us the term “monastery” can be deceiving since not many of the “religious houses” could be considered monasteries. Larger religious houses were called abbeys, medium sized houses were called priories or nunneries, and the smallest were friaries. Some religious houses were public and performed meaningful services to their communities; others were closed and grew tremendously wealthy over centuries of people paving their path to heaven with gifts of land.

“In this way, some religious orders grew spectacularly rich. It was these institutions that are frequently referred to as ‘monasteries’ and they owned, it is thought, about one-third of all the land in England and Wales. The thirty richest monasteries were as rich or richer than the wealthiest nobles in the land.”
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/dissolution_monasteries.htm

When the king wasn’t sure how to proceed with the suppression of the monasteries, our Wyatt suggested “what if the rook’s nest were buttered?” The “rook” being the nobility” and the “butter” being a share of the wealth.

There was no insurmountable backlash at first; people had long known about the corruption in some churches and epic greed of the Vatican; it had a long history of digging sticky fingers deep into the pockets of Welsh and English churches.

Besides which, the Protestants and the printing presses were making scripture available to the masses. Times were changing.

The following year Henry publicly broke with Rome and declared his Act of Supremacy. BBC.co.uk says “In the Orwellian atmosphere of the Tudor state, Cranmer was the thought, Cromwell the police.”

Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s Chief Minister, was a staunch friend of Sir Henry Wyatt and his son Thomas. In 1535 Henry made Cromwell vicegerent for day-to-day running of his church. “Valor Ecclesiasticus” was put into action; it was a process for assessing the wealth of the churches. Initially the reports were inaccurate because they were compiled by unpaid gentry; they could make money by downplaying the documentation of wealth.

Cromwell resolved that situation by sending two trusted agents to do the work – Thomas Legh and Richard Layton. They extracted the information Cromwell wanted to see by bullying and backlash began to rise.

The worst year of Wyatt’s life

1536 was a life-changer for Thomas Wyatt. Catherine of Aragon died in January. I want to believe he cared about her; after all – he clearly saw what Henry and Anne put her through; and he was in love with her Maid of Honor, Elizabeth Darrell.

Anne was on a power trip, alienating friends and family. When Catherine died, she did not conceal her joy. In Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, William Howitt wrote “Indeed, her open rejoicing on this occasion, and the haughty carriage which she now assumed, disgusted and offended every one.”

Pride comes before a fall. The second queen had not produced the promised prince. Henry already had his eyes on another and his will would be done without question.

Anne_Boleyn_London_TowerIn May Thomas Wyatt was sent to the tower due to some a verbal or physical altercation with the Duke of Suffolk; they did not get along. He was in no real danger. On 11 May Cromwell wrote Sir Henry Wyatt to assure him his son’s life would be spared. No legal proceedings were taken against him, but he did see Anne Boleyn and her brother George – lifelong friends – beheaded.

He was released 14 June.

Unrest in Lincolnshire

The dissolution of the monasteries was coming to a head. Unrest was especially intense in Lincolnshire, as there were nine monasteries within about 16 miles. Some would be dissolved due to “manifest synne, vicious, carnall and abhomynable living.” On October 1 100 rebels – ordinary men and gentry of Lincolnshire – rose against closures and taxation.  They made some of Henry’s commissioners swear an oath to the Catholic Church. By October 7, their ranks may have grown to 30,000.

A list of demands was sent to the king on October 9 and he was livid; he called Lincolnshire “the most brute and beastly shire in the realm.” He refused all demands, urged the gentlemen to round up the ringleaders and calm the masses. Lord Hussey and Lord Burgh were unable to raise enough men to meet Henry’s demands.

Our Thomas – only four months out of the tower – was given a command against the rebels. According to Graven with Diamonds, he raised 150 men from Kent and possibly 200 more “for the king’s own bodyguard.”

By the time Henry’s troops arrived on Friday the 13th, most of the rebels had gone to spread dissent to Yorkshire and other areas of the country. The gentry had some explaining to do. Some were executed, including Lord Hussey who had not done enough to quell the rebellion.

Thomas Wyatt Rewarded

Henry VIII made our Thomas Sheriff of Kent.

In November Sir Henry Wyatt died. If he had lived four more months, he would have seen his son attain knighthood.

On Easter, 18 of March, 1536/7 Henry VIII dubbed our Thomas Wyatt Sir Knight at Westminster.

I was afraid Sir Thomas Wyatt might have been involved in the horrific deception that ended the Pilgrimage of Grace; but Henry had other plans for our socially adept ancestor. In April Thomas was appointed Ambassador to the Emperor Charles V – nephew of Henry’s first dead queen.

The Tudors series – available on Netflix – did an excellent job portraying the Pilgrimage of Grace. I felt it helped me understand the issues from both sides.

Here’s a snippet.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jU2A4AB6gU

Sources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/reformation_overview_01.shtml
www.lincstothepast.com/Download/884

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