Interview with Historian, Lauren Mackay
Lauren Mackay is an historian from Sydney, Australia who holds a Masters degree in History from the University of New England and is currently researching her Ph.D on Thomas and George Boleyn in the English Reformation at the University of Newcastle in Australia. Lauren intense interest focuses on lesser known historical figures, as well as the beliefs, customs and diplomacy of the 16th century. Lauren has given several oral presentations focusing on her expertise and interests in both England and Australia. Lauren’s debut biography, Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and His Six Wives through the Writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys was released earlier this month by Amberley Publishing. In anticipation of the book’s release, Lauren recently gave her thoughts to QAB about this amazing historical figure. Her insights are quite fascinating.
1. When many people think of Eustace Chapuys, their opinions are shaped by either characterizations of him being a court gossip or the fatherly figure depicted on Showtime’s The Tudors. What misconceptions of the Imperial Ambassador do you find most inaccurate and damaging?
One of the most popular misconceptions is his behaviour towards Anne Boleyn. I applaud the re-habilitation of Anne’s image and reputation, but Chapuys has suffered unnecessarily in the process. His opposition to Anne has tainted his reputation. He has been erroneously labelled as biased, misogynistic and fanatical. His entire embassy and countless dispatches have been dismissed simply because he refused to recognise Anne over Katherine. But he wasn’t blinded by his hatred of Anne, and no scholar can afford to dismiss his vital contribution to the period.
2. I was surprised to learn that beyond the fact that Eustace Chapuys was an obviously highly educated and brilliant man, that he was a humanist who maintained a friendship with Thomas More and extensive correspondence with Erasmus. What would you like to share with QAB members and browsers about his humanist beliefs and wide friendships and patronages of other like minded beliefs and interests?
He was in constant correspondence with Erasmus throughout his embassy and theologian Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, and his letters go beyond the typically formal correspondence. Chapuys’ personal network of his youth also denotes his humanist leanings, which he extended during his time in England.
3. I find the rapport and seeming mutual respect Eustace Chapuys held with Thomas Cromwell fascinating. Please tell readers and browsers a little bit about how these two seemingly very different men found a way to work so productively together.
Their relationship was complex and convoluted, but the mutual respect, adoration, and exasperation is evident. Chapuys and Cromwell had very similar backgrounds and education. Both men of the world, educated and intellectual,they were able to set politics aside, and enjoyed intellectual conversations. They also enjoyed walking in Cromwell’s gardens and conversed in Italian. It was a friendship based on mutual political and intellectual interests.
4. Just how committed was he to fighting the King’s “Great Matter”? Did his advocacy on her behalf of Queen Katherine od Aragon in any way jeopardize his duties as ambassador for the Holy Roman Emperor by damaging his rapport with King Henry himself?
Chapuys had to tread a very fine line between fighting for Katherine’s cause while promoting an alliance between Henry and Charles. The latter should have taken precedence, but he was often incensed by Katherine’s treatment, and made his feelings known.
5. What about the service and commitment Eustace Chapuys provided to the Lady Mary Tudor. Were his interventions potentially life-saving in securing the Lady Mary’s ultimate submission to her father’s demand that she accept the marriage to her mother invalid?
Chapuys was transfixed by Mary, and utterly devoted to her cause. But he was also a lawyer, intent on securing the best deal for his client. He wasn’t reckless when it came to her welfare, and was often the voice of reason.
6. Much of what we now know of King Henry VIII’s court is gleaned from the remarkable correspondences and dispatches Eustace Chapuys wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor and others. Though we see the English court through his impressions and interpretations, just how important do you think these lasting gifts from the Imperial Ambassador are towards our understanding of 16th century court life?
If we were to view the court solely through Chapuys’ eyes we would be left with a lop-sided view. He found pageants and jousts tedious and often omitted them. However, his insights into individuals of the court have provided us with the most memorable and most importantly human encounters which have resonated with us.
7. After Eustace Chapuys’ retirement, he continued to make contributions by providing the Holy Roman Emperor with his expertise of English government and also maintained correspondence with the Lady Mary Tudor. In what ways do you feel his expertise helped shape politics between Spain and England as King Henry’s death loomed?
Chapuys makes no mention of Henry’s death, but his letters to Charles denote his eagerness to see a secure alliance between England and the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed, after Katherine’s death we see a marked difference in his diplomatic approach. Peace was his ultimate goal.
8. Is there anything else regarding your research of Eustace Chapuys that you would like to share with QAB readers and browsers?
Chapuys was a man of extraordinary principle. Dedicated to Katherine and Mary when they were almost entirely isolated, his loyalty is commendable. Scholars of the period owe him an enormous debt. History books have preserved these larger than life figures of the period but it is Chapuys who has given them their colour and texture.
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