Cavendish studied at the University of Cambridge. His first wife died shortly after the wedding.
His second wife was Margery Kemp, the daughter of William Kemp. In about 1520 he joined the staff of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey as gentleman usher. (1)
Henry Percy also worked for Wolsey and Cavendish observed his relationship with Anne Boleyn. (2) According to Cavendish, Percy took advantage when Wolsey was away: "Lord Percy would then resort for his pastime into the Queen's maidens, being at the last more conversant with Mistress Anne Boleyn than with any other; so that there grew such a secret love between them that at length they were insured together, intending to marry." (3)
Cavendish claims that it was on the orders of Henry VIII in 1522 that Wolsey who brought their relationship to an end. Percy was sent back home and Boleyn was expelled from court. She was so angry that "she smoked" red-hot with rage. (4) However, Alison Plowden, the author of Tudor Women (2002), thinks there is another explanation: "A less romantic but more plausible explanation is that the Cardinal had simply acted to prevent two thoughtless young people from upsetting the plans of their elders and betters. Wolsey and the Earl of Northumberland between them had no difficulty in reducing Lord Percy to an apologetic pulp, but Anne showed her furious disappointment so plainly that she was sent home in disgrace. (5)
George Cavendish has argued that Henry VIII was "casting amorous eyes" in Anne Boleyn's direction as early as 1523. The historian, Alison Weir, suggests that this is likely to have been true: "Cavendish's information was probably correct; he he was an eyewitness of the events of the period who was often taken into Wolsey's confidence, and Wolsey, of course, knew nearly all his master's secrets and made it his business to learn about the private intrigues of the court." (6)
He was highly critical of Anne Boleyn and claimed that she promoted Protestantism. He quotes her as saying "I was the author why the laws were made". However, he does admit that she was "a very good wit". (7) Cavendish also suggests that she had never forgotten the role played by Wolsey in bringing her relationship with Henry Percy to an end. Cavendish believes that she used her influence to turn Henry VIII against his master. (8) Wolsey told Cavendish she was "the night Crow" and "called continually upon the King in his ear, with such a vehemency" she was irresistible. (9)
Cavendish was also an eyewitness to the submission of Catherine of Aragon during divorce proceedings. He quotes her saying: "Sir, I beseech you, for all the loves that hath been betrayed us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right. Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friend, and much less indifferent counsel. I flee to you as the head of justice within this realm. Alas, Sir, where have I offended you? Or what occasion have you of displeasure, that you intend to put me from you? I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever conformable to your will and pleasure. I have been pleased and contented with all things wherein you had delight and dalliance. I never grudged a word or countenance, or showed a spark of discontent. I loved all those whom you loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This twenty years and more I have been your true wife, and by me you have had many children, though it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no fault in me." (10)
After the death of Wolsey he retired to Suffolk. He was recorded as a commissioner for Bedfordshire in 1535. Between 1554 and 1558 he wrote The Life and Death of Thomas Wolsey. It is believed that this was a response to Edward Hall, who provided a hostile portrait of Wolsey, in his book, History of England (1548). In his book Cavendish draws on his observations and experiences in the cardinal's household to offer a portrait that has been acclaimed as the first major English biography. "It remains the most important single contemporary source for Wolsey's life, as well as offering a detailed picture of early sixteenth-century court life and of political events in the 1520s." (11) David Starkey has criticised the book for an "infuriating absence of dates". (12)
George Cavendish died in about 1562.
When it chanced the Lord Cardinal at any time to repair to the Court, the Lord Percy would then resort for his pastime into the Queen's maidens, being at the last more conversant with Mistress Anne Boleyn than with any other; so that there grew such a secret love between them that at length they were insured together, intending to marry.
And thus the world began to be full of wonderful rumours not heard of before in this realm... Then began other matters to brew and take place that occupied all men's heads with diverse imaginations, whose stomachs were therewith full filled without any perfect digestion. the long hid and secret love between the king and Mistress Anne Boleyn began to break out into every man's ears.
Henry Lord Percy was the heir to great estates and an ancient name: his father was that northern magnate known as "Henry the Magnificent", the 5th Earl of Northumberland. There had been talk of a betrothal when he was about fourteen to Lady Mary Talbot, the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, but those negotiations had apparently fallen through. As was often the custom with such young lordings, he was currently being educated in the south, in the household of Cardinal Wolsey. Lord Percy was now about twenty.
His dangerous love affair with Anne Boleyn took place against the background of the Queen's household where he found the "fresh young damsel" in waiting. The danger at this point of course lay in the fact that Lord Percy was one of the most eligible partis in England, who could be expected to make a most profitable match, whereas Anne Boleyn (with a brother to inherit her father's modest wealth) was no kind of heiress. Lord Percy was not the first, nor the last young man to become entangled with a poor young woman in such a situation. The propinquity of the various noble households, the close living conditions of the young people, meant that the education in courtly manners their parents expected them to receive was often accompanied by other kinds of more exciting instruction.
According to Cavendish, Percy began by going to the Queen's chamber `for his recreation' and ended by being deeply enamoured of Anne, an affection which she returned. "There grew such a secret love between them that at length they were ensured together" (that is to say, they were bound together by a promise of marriage or a precontract). Again according to Cavendish, Cardinal Wolsey put an end to the romance - hence Anne Boleyn's subsequent hatred of him - at the request of the King (whose motive was said to be his own predatory intentions in that direction).
Lord Percy put up a spirited defence of his choice, mentioning Anne's "noble parentage" and royal descent, while contending in any case that he was free to make his vows "whereas my fancy served me best". Lastly, he mentioned that "in this matter I have gone so far before many worthy witnesses that I know not how to avoid myself nor to discharge my Conscience". Nevertheless Lord Northumberland was sent for. A secret conclave took place with the Cardinal, at the end of which the Cardinal called for "a cup of wine". Lord Percy received a furious parental lecture, the match with Lady Mary Talbot was resurrected in 1522, and in early 1524 he duly married her.
(2) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 125
(3) George Cavendish, The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey (c. 1558) page 30
(4) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012) page 35
(5) Alison Plowden, Tudor Women (2002) page 45
(6) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 156
(7) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) page 295
(8) Alison Plowden, Tudor Women (2002) page 57
(9) George Cavendish, The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey (c. 1558) page 157
(10) Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) page 200
(11) A. S. G. Edwards, George Cavendish : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(12) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) page 274