January 1519 – Henry Vlll plus 500 years


Take a time travel trip back five hundred years with me to January 1519…

Henry Vlll has been on the throne of England for nearly ten years. He is in the prime of life at 27 years of age and has been married to Katherine of Aragon for nearly ten years. Their daughter Mary is approaching her third birthday soon, in February, but the mood at Court over the Christmas period would probably have been sombre. Katherine`s sixth pregnancy had seen a girl child born in November, but she had been weak and died within days.

Katherine may also have been missing her best friend and confidante, Maria de Salinas, her primary Lady in Waiting who had come over to England with her when Katherine had been travelling to marry Prince Arthur, Henry Vlll`s older brother. Maria de Salinas had been married off to Baron Willoughby d`Eresby of Lincolnshire a couple of years previously and was heavily pregnant with a girl-child, due to be born in March 1519. Maria, no doubt present during Katherine`s pregnancy and the sad loss of her little girl would, almost certainly, have been despatched to Lincolnshire in good time for her own `laying-in`.

By the way, Maria de Salinas and her daughter form part of the ancestry of our current Royal family as a matter of fact. Maria is the 18x Great Grandmother of Princes Harry and George through their mother Diana Spencer. I will tell you a little bit more about them in March when Maria`s daughter is born. Maria features quite significantly in my novel if you want to know more about her, see below for details of how to access the novel.

Another Lady-in-waiting would also have been sent away from Court for the duration of her pregnancy, too. Elizabeth Blount (Bessie Blount) was about three months pregnant by Christmas 1518 and was sent off to a Priory in Essex, where her child was to be born in June of 1519. The father – yes, you guessed – was, of course, Henry Vlll himself, who had formed a strong attachment to Bessie as a very young lady-in-waiting four or five years previously (she was around 12-14 when Henry first noticed her).

Clearly Henry was bedding Bessie during the latter stages of Katherine`s pregnancy, around September/October time – but Katherine had had to put up with Henry`s obsession for the girl for several years, so was probably relieved to see the back of her.

At this time the chief minister of England was Thomas Wolsey. He had become Dean of Lincoln back in February 1509 at the age of about 38 and later that year the newly crowned King had made him Lord Almoner, so he was beginning his rapid rise after a few years of relatively uninspiring plodding. By 1514 he was appointed Bishop of Lincoln and then before the end of the year, Archbishop of York. He had made himself indispensable to the young King during his war with France in 1513, at the same time having to help Katherine of Aragon tackle an invasion from Scotland – which ended very bloodily for the Scots in the Battle of Flodden.

He had been made a Cardinal and had become Chancellor of England in 1515. His stock had risen in the Church lately as well and had been made a Papal Legate by the Pope during 1518, responsible now as the Pope`s representative here in England. That was all to do with his success in establishing a major Peace Treaty in Europe called the Treaty of London. It seems somewhat ironic 500 years later when we are still trying to deal with Brexit that we have recently “celebrated” the quincentenary of the Treaty of London. Not only was this a Peace treaty, but Wolsey had managed to include in the treaty a clause which committed each member of the treaty to come to the aid of any other member who was attacked. An early attempt at a European Union!!

This success by Wolsey, during 1518, made him something of a “player” in the negotiations which developed following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian, who died on 12th January 1519. His involvement also raised the profile of England in the European context, since the parties seeking to take on the role of becoming the new Holy Roman Emperor were all looking to get Henry Vlll on their side – Henry even gained some support for becoming the Holy Roman Emperor himself, though that did not happen in the end.

Emperor Maximillian – died 12th January 1519

I shall return to the issue of the Holy Roman emperor in later posts as the year develops and keep you up to date with who was doing what in 1519. In the meantime Louth in Lincolnshire was being its own peaceful self as a moderately wealthy market town over this Christmas period. In my version of the life and times of Nicholas Melton, Nicholas would be 18 coming up to 19.

Indeed, he was the same age as King Charles V of Spain and in the novel he had already visited Ghent as apprentice to London Shoemaker – Cobbler Kirkkgarde – when Kirkkgarde`s niece Marieke had married a chef in Charles` kitchens, just before Charles himself had had to travel to Spain in 1516 to establish his claim to the Aragon throne on the death of his grandmother Isabella. To give you a flavour of the novel, I am attaching an extract which explains how Nicholas Melton obtained his famous “Coat of Motley”, which involves his visit to Ghent!


The Coat of Motley

An unexpected excursion

It was only a few days after this ‘entertainment’ that Cobbler Kirkkgarde had sprung a complete surprise on Nicholas. Indeed, he could hardly believe his ears when the shoemaker said they would be going, the following Wednesday, to Kirkkgarde’s home town of Ghent. A niece of his, Marieke Molenaar, was getting married the week following on the Friday.

It was a surprise for Nicholas because it was nearly as much of a surprise for Kirkkgarde himself!

After her father died, when she was only fourteen, Johann Kirkkgarde had helped Marieke as much as possible with her upbringing – both financially and with her education. Now, she had just asked him to ‘give her away’ at her wedding.

She had grown up into a very independent woman. She was now twenty five and she had a small millinery business. Her uncle had helped her by buying her first few yards of material, but the sewing and selling skills were her own. She had resisted family pressures to pick a husband for her, and had chosen her own husband, in her own time.

Kirkkgarde was, formally, her guardian. But his own rather negative experience of being found a bride contributed a certain sympathy to her search for true love. When he had moved to England a few years previously he had not required her to move with him as she seemed settled where she was.

Nonetheless, now it was about to take place, she wanted the wedding to be as traditional as possible.

Johann Kirkkgarde was thoroughly delighted to be asked, not having children of his own; he felt it was a special honour and was looking forward to it tremendously. Sadly his wife had chosen not to go because she got fearfully seasick and was afraid of travelling so soon after the English war with the French. So, although he had spent much effort trying to persuade her to change her mind, she had refused point blank to leave London. And, since Nicholas and he seemed to be getting along so well as apprentice and master, he had decided to take him along as a companion for the journey.

“’Tis a long enough journey and can be trying without good company. I have been here and back quite a few times over the years and I have always been miserable when travelling on my own. Besides, it will be an experience for you, young man! Broaden your horizons, eh? So much more edifying than taking yourself to executions, grisly and bloody as they are!”

He shuddered theatrically, having been given an expurgated version of Nicholas’ day out with the apprentices!

Nicholas tried, half-heartedly at least, to be modest, and refuse the invitation, but Kirkkgarde would hear nothing of it; much to Nicholas’ secret delight! He wrote a short letter to his parents telling them of his prospective adventure, but it was likely that he would be nearly at his destination before the letter reached them in far-off Lincolnshire.

As near as he could tell from the many questions he asked of his mentor, the journey was not many more miles on land from London to Ghent than from Louth to London. It was, however, made more difficult and time consuming by the sea journey from England to France. It crossed his mind that he would get to see Calais as well, of course. Whether he would be able to get to the bottom of ‘Three-fingered Jack’s’ tall tale which he had recently heard in Newark’s hostelry, he thought unlikely.

Kirkkgarde explained that a hundred years ago, “…perhaps even only fifty…” they would have been able to travel all the way from London to Ghent by ship but the canal from the sea to the port of Ghent itself had silted up these past forty years so “… ’tis said that nothing but a rowboat could make it all the way up the canal now! But my father told me he could remember seeing sea-going ships when he was young.”

“So, my lad, we must needs ride to Dover, catch a barque to Calais and proceed overland to Ghent. I have been assured by the messenger who brought news of Marieke’s wedding that travelling is straightforward for men of business such as myself – and you, of course! – so I sent word straight back via the same messenger that we should be there in time for the wedding. I have to say, the short notice does suggest to my mind that Marieke has, perhaps, been rather naughty and she wishes to be wed before a child is born! But these things happen and, anyway, I may be misjudging the girl –  there may be a perfectly rational alternative explanation for her plight!”

They packed to travel light because Cobbler Kirkkgarde promised to buy them a new outfit of clothes when they arrived in Ghent “…’tis the capital of the cloth trade and I have a family interest in tailoring, so there will be no problem there!”

He made it all seem so matter-of-fact to Nicholas, who had assumed travelling between countries was so far out of his reach. They were on their way very quickly and there were no hitches on the way, either. Luck was with them, so much so, that they even managed to get passage on a Calais-bound ship the very morning after their arrival in Dover.

It helped that the cobbler seemed to know many of the sea-captains down on the harbour. He explained to Nicholas that he had always retained a number of customers in his hometown, and regularly came down to Dover to despatch several pairs of shoes each for well-off clients in the Netherlands. All his Ghent customers knew that their feet would be very comfortable with shoes made on the Kirkkgarde last, modelled directly from their feet, in the very finest leather he had managed to buy.


Nicholas did not get chance to investigate Three-fingered Jack’s story, for they left Calais almost as soon as they arrived. They went to stay at an inn known to Kirkkgarde just two miles outside the city gate. They were up betimes, and made good speed the next day too.

They were thus entering the west gate of Ghent less than five days after setting off from London. Marieke was surprised to see them with so many days to spare before the wedding. But then Kirkkgarde chided her for her surprise, and the short notice, saying he expected she must be “…with child”, against his best advice when she was younger, and dependent upon him. She hugged him hard and laughed.

“I had forgotten just how resourceful you are Uncle Johann, to get here so quickly, but I am so very pleased you have done…you will be able to share in all the pre-nuptial preparations and celebrations…and NO – I am not ‘with child’. Fie upon such a thought!”

All of this exchange had gone on in a foreign tongue, of course, so Nicholas was at a loss as to what was said and had to have it all explained to him afterwards. He was still rather bemused to be here and realised how strange it must all have been for Kirkkgarde when he first came to England.

Nicholas was made most welcome, too, by the family. And after they were shown their respective beds, they were provided with some light refreshments as a stop-gap until later. Then there was to be a festive supper for all the arriving relatives, who seemed to be numerous; a lot of cousins, and uncles and aunts from other towns and cities in the Netherlands. Nicholas was allocated a bed in a room with three male cousins from three different towns, only two of the cousins having yet arrived.


It turned out that the explanation for the hasty wedding was at once complex, based upon the politics of nations and royal succession, and yet now rendered unnecessary by those same considerations!

Marieke’s business as a milliner had attracted some customers from the court of the young King Charles (born in the same year as Nicholas, at the turn of the century) who succeeded to the throne in Ghent at the tender age of six, ten years previously. Marieke had attracted the interest of a handsome young sous-chef in the royal household who had, eventually, proposed marriage at a date to be determined in the future. He was a rather shy young man.

Charles was King of the Burgundian Netherlands, which title he inherited from his father, Philip the Handsome, who was married to Joanna the Mad, elder sister of Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England.

Charles was quite happy being king in his home town of Ghent. But his grandfather, Ferdinand, Catherine of Aragon’s father, had just died. In their wisdom, the Spanish nobility decided Charles should not only be co-ruler of Spain, as regent, with his barking-mad mother, Joanna, as queen, but he should be crowned co-ruler as the first king of a unified Spain. The Spanish nobles said that this meant that he had to be in Spain to receive his crown!

That, in turn, meant that most of his court would have to move to Spain with him, not least his sous-chef, who was renowned for the wonderful creations of cakes and delicious sweet dishes in which he specialised.

And that, in turn, meant that Marieke had to marry her man straight away or lose him to Spain and the blandishments of Spanish senoritas. And then, having set the wedding date in short order, necessitating Johann’s hasty journey from London, King Charles, the first of all Spain, suddenly decided he would only travel to Spain when it suited him.

And what suited him was to wait until next year – so the sous-chef and the milliner need not have rushed their wedding after all!

All of this, and several digressions, took Marieke quite some time to explain to Johann and much longer to explain it all in English to Nicholas, especially when some of Johann’s relatives tried ‘helping’ with the explanation, in their very broken English; all of which tended to hinder Nicholas’ understanding rather than help it.

The explanation was also interrupted when Johann’s tailoring and cloth-making cousins arrived, and negotiations were put in hand to provide the cobbler and his apprentice with new clothes fit for the wedding. It was clear that Marieke had a significant influence upon the clothes her uncle would be wearing to give her away.  For his part, Uncle Johann simply acquiesced to her decision making!

Nicholas discovered she was a strong-minded woman as well as good-looking in a blond Netherlandish way. So, when it came to his clothes, he was so pleased to be getting a new outfit that he anticipated simply saying “Yes” to her ideas, as his master-cobbler-mentor had done, to whatever was offered.

The discussion about his outfit was well under way when the tailor-cousin, Hans de Groot, said out of the blue…

“He could always have one of my new Motley Coats…?!”

Nicholas asked what had been said and, after Johann explained, he was no wiser.

“What is a Motley Coat?”

Johann explained that his cousin Hans had designed a coat which had caught the eye of fashionable people in Ghent and was boosting his business nicely. It was made from cloths of several different colours stitched together in panels. Marieke, who was good at sketching her millinery ideas for clients of hers, quickly showed Nicholas roughly what it would look like.

He nearly fell off his stool – it was so much like the multi-coloured shirts he had seen the fiddlers wearing in the Coronation procession in London, over which he had hung his nose.

“Oh YES…please, may I have a Coat of Motley!?” he enthused. Then he wondered if he had overstepped his host’s kindness and tried to back away, but his enthusiasm had been noted and approved. He had no idea whether it was an expensive choice, or not, and felt very guilty that it might be really expensive. But the decision was made!

So, his new coat arrived the day before the wedding and he was thrilled with it. He was now one of the most fashionably dressed young men in Ghent, due to the kindness of his sponsor and his sponsor’s tailoring cousin, Hans de Groot. So, when Johann suggested Nicholas might like to provide some entertainment at the party that night he had no hesitation in saying ‘yes’ – despite his consequent nerves.

His nerves nearly got the better of him, however, when he discovered that the ‘party’ was to be held at the palace! He thought he might have to perform in front of the king! But the party was not in the court, but in the large buttery next to the kitchens where Marieke’s betrothed worked his cookery magic. And the participants were not the courtiers but the scullery maids, gardeners, cooks, footmen and grooms who were Pieter’s daily colleagues. The only links with higher society were a few lowly pages who were regular visitors to the kitchens on behalf of their gentlemen and were, therefore, young sons of gentlemen themselves.

There was plenty of strong monastic-brewed ale flowing during the evening, so, by the time it came for Nicholas to perform his ‘entertainments’ he had lost his nervousness altogether! Thankfully he had not imbibed so much ale that would have spoiled his voice, but he did feel really relaxed as Johann was introducing him! He had explained the songs to Johann, in detail, in advance, so that he was able to give the gist of the story to the ‘audience’ before Nicholas sang for his supper and, of course, for his Coat of Motley!

With little encouragement needed, owing to the effects of the ale, he was soon standing on a bench so people could see him and he sang his first song “…a tune composed, and the words written by his most gracious Majesty, Henry VIII King of England… ‘Pastime with good company’.”  The song had quickly become a favourite at fairs, and church ales, all around England. He sang unaccompanied, apart from the beat of a kitchen hand upon a copper pot, his voice bouncing from the buttery walls!

I love and shall until I die

grudge who lust but none deny

so God be pleased thus live will I

for my pastance

hunt sing and dance

my heart is set

all goodly sport

for my comfort

who shall me let


Youth must have some dalliance

of good or ill some pastance

Company me thinks then best

all thoughts and fancies to digest.

for Idleness

is chief mistress

of vices all

then who can say.

but mirth and play

is best of all.


Company with honesty

is virtue vices to flee.

Company is good and ill

but every man has his free will.

the best ensue

the worst eschew

my mind shall be

virtue to use

vice to refuse

thus shall I use me.

His song was well received with some applause, making Nicholas smile. Then Johann explained that Nicholas would sing a song of his local county, Lincolnshire and people laughed as, between them, Nicholas and Johann explained the story of the song. Before he started to sing, Nicholas attempted to teach them the chorus…he sang the whole line first of all, then broke it down into three phrases which he repeated slowly…and got his audience to repeat as best they could, phonetically…

“..Oh…’tis my delight…”

“..on a shiny night…”

“..in the season of the year.”

Then he began…..

When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire,

Full well I served my master for more than seven years,

Till I took up to poaching, as you shall quickly hear,

“..Oh…’tis my delight…on a shiny night…in the season of the year..”

The chorus was jumbled to say the least…so he stopped singing and laughingly berated his audience…”NOOO – sing it again!” They did, with much better effect.

He sang the first verse again and the chorus was much better this time! So he continued:-

As me and my companions were setting of a snare,

‘Twas then we spied the gamekeeper, for him we did not care,

For we can wrestle and fight, my boys, and jump out anywhere,

“..Oh…’tis my delight…on a shiny night…in the season of the year..”

Much better!!” … then the third verse…

As me and my companions were setting four or five,

And taking on ’em up again, we caught a hare alive.

We took a hare alive my boys, and through the woods did steer

“..Oh…’tis my delight…on a shiny night…in the season of the year..”

I threw him on my shoulder and then we trudged home

We took him to a neighbour’s house, and sold him for a crown;

We sold him for a crown, my boys, but I did not tell you where

“..Oh…’tis my delight…on a shiny night…in the season of the year..”

Success to ev’ry gentleman that lives in Lincolnshire

Success to every poacher that wants to sell a hare

Bad luck to ev’ry gamekeeper that will not sell his deer

“..Oh…’tis my delight…on a shiny night…in the season of the year..” 

And then with a flourished repeat of the last line Nicholas took a deep bow to much applause and cheering from the buttery guests and jumped down from the bench, whereupon, several of the scullery maids came and took turns ‘bussing’ him on the cheeks. One dear lady of a certain age, and round as a barrel with rosy cheeks – he learnt later she was one of the cooks who worked under Pieter – came and gave him a smacker on the lips, holding his head so he couldn’t escape – to general laughter!

In his fine new Coat of Motley he basked in the glory of his temporary fame, and at the wedding the next day many of the girls, and the rosy cheeked roly-poly cook, waved across the room to him and several blew him kisses! “Definitely my lucky coat!” he thought to himself.

The wedding itself went off wonderfully; Johann gave his niece away with aplomb and decorum and the wedding feast was a marvel. The meal was ‘superintended’ by Pieter of course, all his colleagues surpassing themselves in providing the food. And it was all washed down with more strong monastic-brewed ale!

Then home to London for Cobbler Kirkkgarde and his apprentice – in his fine new Coat of Motley.


I hope you liked this short extract – if you want to read more the e-book/kindle version of the novel is available on Amazon at only 99 pence

The Historical Novel Society review was very kind and you can read it here…


And you can go to Amazon and purchase the e-book here…



About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
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