Eustace Chapuys, the second son of Louis Chapuys and of his wife, Guigone Dupuys, was born in Annecy in about 1490.
Chapuys entered Turin University in November 1507. A talented student he "became doctor of civil and canon laws". (1)
In July 1517 he joined the staff of Jean de Savoie, the Bishop of Geneva and became his representative in the government of the city. During this period he became friends with Cornelius Agrippa. In 1525 he became ambassador for the Duke of Bourbon. After Bourbon was killed in May 1527, Chapuys went to work for King Charles V.
In April 1529 Chapuys was asked to deal with the conflict between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Charles V's ambassador in England, Iñigo de Mendoza, suggested that a new ambassador was needed, a canonist with good Latin whose main business would be to advise Catherine. His credentials were issued on 19th May 1529, and he arrived in London by 1st September. (2) Chapuys was a Roman Catholic who was hostile to religious reformers such as Thomas Cromwell.
Henry suggested that Catherine should agree to annul the marriage. Alison Weir, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) believes that if she agreed to this measure Henry would have treated her well. "Yet time and again she had opposed him, seemingly blind to the very real dilemma he was in with regard to the succession, and when thwarted Henry could, and frequently did, became cruel." (3)
Alison Plowden argues that for Catherine it was impossible to accept the deal being put forward: "Henry's partisans have accused his first wife of spiritual arrogance, of bigotry and bloody-mindedness, and undoubtedly she was one of those uncomfortable people who would literally rather die than compromise over a moral issue. There's also no doubt that she was an uncommonly proud and stubborn woman. But to have yielded would have meant admitting to the world that she had lived all her married life in incestuous adultery, that she had been no more than 'the King's harlot', the Princess her daughter worth no more than any man's casually begotten bastard; and it would have meant seeing another woman occupying her place. The meekest of wives might well have jibbed at such self-sacrifice; for one of Catherine's background and temperament it was unthinkable." (4)
C. S. L. Davies has pointed out that Eustace Chapuys had to be careful about his contact with Catherine of Aragon: "From his earliest interviews with Henry VIII he was aware of the dangers of officially sponsored anti-clericalism leading to schism, confiscation of church lands, and, ultimately, 'Lutheranism’ also that the divorce might be settled in England, with parliament somehow involved. He was in close though discreet contact with Catherine, and was her channel of communication to the emperor, and, increasingly, to Rome. They agreed on the need for a quick decision by the pope, while Clement VII prevaricated. Both therefore urged Charles to press Clement; but Charles was fearful of driving Henry into the arms of France... Catherine believed, or professed to do so, that once the pope had spoken decisively, Henry would take heed." (5)
Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) has pointed out: "For the next sixteen years, with short intervals, he would be posted in England, his reports back to Spain are therefore an extraordinarily important source for the period - provided one bears in mind his natural imperialist bias. Certainly Chapuys developed an excellent intelligence service. He was determined that in this, language should not be a barrier. When he enlarged his staff, recruiting young men from Flanders and Burgundy, he insisted they should learn English. He also employed Catherine's former gentleman usher, Montoya, who had served twenty years in England and had an excellent command of the language, as his principal secretary.... Chapuys suffered intensely from gout; but with his taste for intrigue, Chapuys turned the disability to good advantage. He would insist on leaning on his English valet Fleming, and got himself another pair of listening English ears as a result. As an efficient spymaster, Chapuys knew the value of maids and other servants, as well as their social superiors at court; and he cultivated the merchant community." (6)
Henry sent a message to the Pope Clement VII arguing that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid as she had previously been married to his brother Arthur. Henry relied on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to sort the situation out. During negotiations the Pope forbade Henry to contract a new marriage until a decision was reached in Rome. With the encouragement of Anne, Henry became convinced that Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, and in 1529 he was dismissed from office. (7)
Eustace Chapuys was a strong opponent of Anne Boleyn. He used to refer to her as "the Concubine" or "the Lady". (8) Chapuys collected reports of dissatisfaction in England, and was optimistic about the chances of rebellion. In December 1533, he reported that "respectable and well-to-do" individuals had told him that all that was needed to start a rising was for Charles V to send a token ship. He also recommended trade sanctions. Chapuys feared Henry VIII would kill Catherine and her daughter Mary. He therefore came up with a plan to rescue Mary, but Charles vetoed the plan. (9)
In March 1534 Pope Clement VII eventually made his decision. He announced that Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid. Henry reacted by declaring that the Pope no longer had authority in England. In November 1534, Parliament passed an act that stated that Henry VIII was now the Head of the Church of England.
On 24th February, 1535, Eustace Chapuys reported that Henry had a new mistress: "The young lady who was lately in the King's favour is so no longer. There has succeeded to her place a cousin of the concubine, daughter of the present governess of the Princess." (10) In later communications with Chapuys makes it clear that the woman having the relationship with the king is Mary Shelton. (11)
Rumours began to circulate that Catherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary would be executed. The English ambassador in Spain reported that "people expected to hear every day of the execution of Queen Catherine, and that the Princess Mary was expected soon to follow." (12) However, by December 1535, Catherine was dangerously ill and any plans for her execution was postponed. She was suffering from severe pains in the chest and her physician doubted that she would recover.
Catherine of Aragon died at Kimbolton Castle on 7th January, 1536. She was just over fifty years old. Her doctor claimed that she had been suffering from "slow poisoning". Chapuys reported that she had been poisoned with Italian poison, at the instigation of Anne Boleyn. (13) However, Antonia Fraser dismisses the idea: "The deaths of prominent persons whose removal was thought to be rather too convenient for their enemies were generally accompanied by such suspicions. The charge is ludicrous... God was likely to carry off Catherine soon enough without extra help. There is also the question of the character of Henry VIII. He regarded poison with moral repugnance: it was alien to him. The axe and rope, wielded in public, not secret poison were the weapons of his authority against those who defied the royal will, preceded if possible by the culprits profound repentance at having crossed or betrayed him." (14)
Catherine was was buried at Peterborough Abbey on 29th January 1536. Eustace Chapuys reported to King Charles V: "The King dressed entirely in yellow from head to foot, with the single exception of a white feather in his cap. His bastard daughter Elizabeth was triumphantly taken to church to the sounds of trumpets and with great display. Then, after dinner, the King went to the Hall where the Ladies were dancing, and there made great demonstrations of joy, and at last went to his own apartments, took the little bastard in his arms, and began to show her first to one, then to another, and did the same on the following days." (15)
Eustace Chapuys worked closely with Henry VIII in an attempt to persuade him to allow Mary to marry a Roman Catholic prince in Europe. This came to an end when Jane Seymour gave birth to Edward. He and his French counterpart Charles de Marillac were in opposition for many years. Chapuys enjoyed the much greater advantage of having Marillac's confidential secretary, Jean de Hons, in his pay from July 1541 until Marillac's departure in August 1542. He transmitted copies of instructions from Paris as well as reports of discussions. (16)
Chapuys officially retired in April 1545 but he continued to keep in contact with pro-Catholic elements in England. William Paget described Chapuys as cunning and untrustworthy and "as wilful a man and as glorious, as ever I had to do with all" and a man who said "whatever came into his mouth without respect of honesty or truth, so it might serve his turn". Chapuys continued to produce assessments of the political situation as late as January 1547.
Eustace Chapuys died on 21st January 1556.
The autumn of 1529, which saw the disappearance from court of Wolsey, also marked the arrival of a new ally for Queen Catherine. Eustace Chapuys, the incoming Spanish ambassador, was well-equipped to steer the unfortunate woman through the morass of debate and conflict that followed the advocation of the tribunal. Somebody - probably Thomas Cranmer, then a relatively unknown ecclesiastic but with connections to the Boleyn family had had the idea of transferring the argument from that of law to the realm of theology. This was to be done by appealing to theological scholars at universities throughout Europe to give their opinions. Chapuys was a doctor of canon law and a former ecclesiastical judge in Geneva. He would also fully justify the Emperor's description of him to the Queen as "a very trusty person, and sure to take up your defence with all fidelity and diligence."
In 1529 Chapuys was a man of forty, a few years younger than the Quern he would serve so devotedly: about the same age as Thomas Cranmer. For the next sixteen years, with short intervals, he would be posted in England, his reports back to Spain are therefore an extraordinarily important source for the period - provided one bears in mind his natural imperialist bias. Certainly Chapuys developed an excellent intelligence service. He was determined that in this, language should not be a barrier. When he enlarged his staff, recruiting young men from Flanders and Burgundy, he insisted they should learn English. He also employed Catherine's former gentleman usher, Montoya, who had served twenty years in England and had an excellent command of the language, as his principal secretary. Like Cardinal Campeggio (who went back to Rome at the beginning of October) Chapuys suffered intensely from gout; but with his taste for intrigue, Chapuys turned the disability to good advantage. He would insist on leaning on his English valet Fleming, and got himself another pair of listening English ears as a result. As an efficient spymaster, Chapuys knew the value of maids and other servants, as well as their social superiors at court; and he cultivated the merchant community.
The referral of the case to Rome had been a consolation to Queen Catherine: the Pope had listened to her, and she was still confident that her husband would eventually return to her. But the King, as if to underline his determination to have his way, left her behind when he went on progress that August, and took Anne Boleyn instead. When he returned, matters were very strained between the royal couple, and at the beginning of October a heated exchange took place, when Catherine told Henry that she knew she had right on her side, and that as she had never been a true wife to his brother, their marriage must be legal.
Catherine now had a new champion in England. In the autumn of 1529 the new Spanish ambassador arrived. Eustache Chapuys was a cultured attorney from Savoy, a man of great ability and astuteness. Never afraid of speaking his mind, he was devoted to the service of the Emperor and those connected with him. He had been well briefed about the treatment meted out to Queen Catherine by her husband, and when he arrived in London he was already committed to her cause. Nor would it belong before, having come to know her, he conceived the deepest admiration and respect, and a very sincere affection, for the Queen.
From the first, Chapuys carried out his duties with more zeal than any of his predecessors, even Mendoza. His initial brief was to bring about a reconciliation between the King and Queen by using "gentleness and friendship". But it would only be a matter of time before Chapuys had far exceeded these instructions and became a continual thorn in the side of Henry VIII. He was distrusted by the King's courtiers and advisers, and hated by the Boleyn faction, who feared his influence. The enmity was mutual. Chapuys would never refer to Anne Boleyn as anything other than "the Concubine" or "the Lady". Sir William Paget, one of the King's secretaries, did not consider Chapuys to be a wise man, but a liar, a tale-teller and a flatterer, who had no regard for honesty or truth. Paget, it must be said, was biased, but his comments should be borne in mind, for the dispatches of Chapuys form a major proportion of the source material for this period.