I am delighted to be hosting the very first guest post to this blog, particularly since this post is the final stop on the Inside the Tudor Court book tour. Inside the Tudor Court is the début book by Australian historian, Lauren Mackay, and I shall be reviewing it more fully in due course. However, suffice to say for now that it is fascinating and eye-opening account of the man who somewhat reluctantly found himself at the centre of one of the most dramatic periods in English history; that man is Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador to the English Court between 1529 – 1545. Read on for a chance to win a copy of the book….
Since this blog is all about historic travels, I asked Lauren to take us on a journey, to seek out the origins of Chapuys, so that if you wish, you to can get up close and personal with this most wily of characters. So, it’s over to Lauren to tell us more.
The story of Chapuys the man begins in his hometown of Annecy. The town boasts a population of 500,00 and is the capital of the department of Haute Savoie. In Chapuys’ time, the region formed the western half of the duchy of Savoy, which straddled the Alps between France and the Piedmont region in North West Italy. Annecy at the heat of one of the most sought after regions, from the 10th century onwards.
Annecy: The Venice of France
Annecy is a lovely and yet formidable town. Known as the Venice of France, the town is divided by a canal, winding down from the turquoise waterers of Lake Annecy. The lake is considered to be the jewel of the Savoy Alps, and the canal carries these waters right through the centre. In the middle of the canal stands the Palais de Isle, a 12th century fortress, shaped like a stone galley with a gable structure and towers, anchored in the canal. The building was once the administrative centre of the Council of Geneva, and was also a court, mint house and prison. Today it houses a museum, and at night, the warm lights from the windows light up the entire canal, and can be seen throughout the town. Overlooking the town, perched at the top of a steep, stone hill, is the Musee Chateau de Annecy, where some of Chapuys’ portraits reside. Annecy was untouched by both world wars, and remains much as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries. Tracing the line of the canal away from Lake Annecy, you come across the Town Hall Eustace Chapuys and his family frequented. The family owned several properties in what we would now call salubrious neighbourhoods —residences which still stand. We can trace Chapuys and his family clearly, walking through the dark cobblestone streets, framed by Tuscan yellow buildings, their balconies spilling out over the path. Walking past the Palais de Isle, towards the main street that sweeps around the lake, known as Quai Eustache Chappuis, you come across a simple, unadorned stone church, where the family attended Mass. The building has not changed; these were the steps Eustace knew. He may have spent over 15 years in England, but one gains a glimpse of Chapuys, in Annecy, more than anywhere else. Beyond Henry, Charles V, and Katherine of Aragon, in Annecy you begin to understand the man beyond the ambassador.
The medieval town that Chapuys knew remains largely intact
A Game of Politics
The search for Chapuys the man begins in the charming old city of Annecy at the foot of the Alps in south-eastern France, near the border with Switzerland, about 40 kilometres south of Geneva. It was here in the late fifteenth century that Eustace Chapuys (sometimes spelt Chapuis or Chappuis) was born to Louis and Guigone Chapuys (maiden name Dupuys). The family name has, in the past, been recorded as a French word for carpenter, but there is no evidence that charpentier, French for carpenter, can be linked to it.
The exact year of his birth is uncertain, as we lack the equivalent of a birth certificate. It was 1499, according to a copy of the Latin numerals inscribed on his tomb in the chapel of the Collège de Savoie. Chapuys founded the college in 1551 in his retirement at Leuven (Louvain), Belgium, where he died and was buried in 1556. However, 1499 is clearly too late, as we know Chapuys entered university eight years later. Historian Garrett Mattingly suggests that the stone cutter, or whoever copied the inscription before the tomb and chapel were demolished in 1807, inadvertently included one ‘X’ too many, therefore the birth date should have been 1489. This makes Chapuys a more plausible eighteen years old on entering university. Another just plausible date in the literature on Chapuys is 1491–92, making him a precocious fifteen-year-old on commencing university; unfortunately the day and month of his birth are unknown.
Lake Annecy today
Annecy, with a population of about 50,000, is the capital of the department of Haute-Savoie, which abuts the department of Savoie. In Chapuys’ time the two regions formed the western half of the Duchy of Savoy, which straddled the Alps between France and the Piedmont region in north-west Italy. The duchy’s capital was first Chambéry and later Turin in Piedmont. Because of its strategic location and rich agricultural potential, the region has inevitably been involved in a tug of war between kingdoms, principalities and city states. From the tenth century, Annecy became the property of the counts of Geneva, and from 1401 of the counts and later the dukes of Savoy. The town gained importance during the Reformation when Geneva expelled its bishop in 1533, and he fled to Annecy. It was also in Annecy in 1728 that sixteen-year-old Catholic convert Jean-Jacques Rousseau arrived, in flight from his engraver’s apprenticeship in Geneva. There he met his benefactress and subsequent lover, Baronne de Warens, also a Catholic convert; she and the philosopher later cohabited in Chambéry.
Savoy was incorporated into France in 1792, and then fell in turn under Sicilian, Sardinian, Spanish and Austrian rule. In 1860, the King of Sardinia asked France for military aid against Austria, in return offering Savoy and Nice to Napoleon III. Lured by the prospect of peace and firm government, the Savoyards voted overwhelmingly that year for reunification with France under the Treaty of Turin. This was a prelude to the Italian Risorgimento; the last Duke of Savoy, Victor Emmanuel II, became king of the newly unified Italy.
Annecy today is a popular winter gateway to the ski resorts of the French Alps. In the abundant sunshine of summer, tents and caravans dot the idyllic countryside, and pleasure craft and swimmers enjoy the clear turquoise waters of Lake Annecy, on whose north-western edge the town lies. Looming over all of this is the mountain range known as the Dents de Lanfon (Teeth of Lanfon), whose jagged peaks remain snow-capped in summer.
For visitors uninterested in skiing or aquatic sports, Annecy offers a picture-postcard medieval centre dominated by the extensive hilltop walls of a late medieval castle, Château d’Annecy. It was occupied by the counts of Geneva from 1219 and later by the dukes of Genevois-Nemours. It now houses Annecy’s main museum, La Musée-château d’Annecy. The River Thiou, which feeds waters from Lake Annecy to the River Fier, a tributary of the Rhone, winds through an extensive cobblestone pedestrian precinct; its stonewalled embankment gives it the appearance of a canal, and tourist brochures characterise Annecy as ‘the Venice of France’. At one point the river is divided by a twelfth-century stone fortress, the Palais de l’Île, shaped rather like a stone galley, with a gabled superstructure and towers, and anchored in the river. The building was once the administrative centre of the counts of Geneva, and later served as a courthouse, mint and prison; today it houses a small history museum.
Warmer weather attracts throngs of tourists to old Annecy’s narrow lanes and river embankment. There they visit the Gothic and Baroque churches, and enjoy the fashionable cafés, bars and boutiques that now occupy the leaning medieval stone buildings. The city’s remoteness from destructive wars, and its generations of history-conscious city fathers, have ensured that the old town that Chapuys knew has survived largely intact; in fact today’s tourists are walking in Chapuys’ footsteps.
Annecy has not forgotten this humanist, intellectual and esteemed Imperial ambassador to the Tudor court. The wide and busy main street, Quai Eustache Chapuis, sweeps around a large park on the lake. Nearby is the Rue du Collège Chappuisien, where the college he founded for underprivileged boys in his retirement in 1549 once stood. In 1888 it was converted into a high school, the Lycée Berthollet, and relocated to its current site; the original college building eventually became a military barracks and was demolished in the 1930s.
Appropriately, Annecy houses the only known portraits of Eustace Chapuys. The four paintings, none of them on public display, were produced after Chapuys’ death, but are possibly copies of contemporary portraits. They are welcome replacements for the grainy, black-and-white image – head and shoulders cropped from one of the paintings – that has long been used to represent Chapuys in the literature.
Two of the paintings, each titled Portrait d’Eustache Chappuis, are stored in the Annecy museum, La Musée-château d’Annecy. The three-quarter- length portrait is described in the museum catalogue only as seventeenth century, by an unknown artist. Typical of paintings of scholars and clerics of the time, a dignified-looking Chapuys in dark, bulky, possibly silk outer clothing sits in three-quarter profile with his left elbow on a table covered with a red cloth. He is looking rather blankly to his left beneath a tricorne hat, against a background of dark red drapes hanging in folds. Apart from his long face and prominent nose, our eyes are drawn to his slim hands and long, delicate fingers, a feature the artist clearly wished to emphasise. A second portrait, also undated and unattributed, may be related to the first, judging from the angle of the sitter’s head and the style of clothing and hat. The nose and mouth however are somewhat different, and the fingers on the right hand are exaggerated almost to the point of deformity. The small scroll in Chapuys’ left hand possibly indicates his tenure as the Imperial ambassador; it might also be connected with his founding of the colleges in Annecy and Louvain. The anonymous painter has depicted a curling page on the left with a Latin inscription and the date 1711, presumably when the work was completed. According to the museum catalogue, the painting once belonged to the collection of the Académie Florimontane, described as a learned society founded in 1606 and dedicated to the research (presumably historical) of the ancient states of Savoy. The Latin inscription on the curling page reads,
Pre nobilis, Et Spectabilis vir D’Eustachius Chapuis, V. D. Annesiensis, Laba Collogii Louvinny Ex gratia Sabaiseloy et huims fondator. Vis it s.b Obiit 21 Januarii 1556, Atatis 32 Sepicus.
Eustace Chapuys, of Annecy, aged thirty-two, a noble and remarkable man, who founded a college in Louvain, and died in January 1556.
Above the page is Chapuys’ family coat of arms, consisting of two white or silver lions separated by a silver band on an azure field. Above this are the Imperial eagles of the Holy Roman Emperor, possibly signifying Chapuys’ fealty to Charles V, whom he served. A third portrait of Chapuys was used in a brochure for an exhibition organised by Annecy Municipal Archives in 2006, entitled Dans le Miroir D’Eustache Chapuys: Un diplomate annecien entre humanisme et Reformes. The Annecy Municipal Archives understands this portrait is stored in the museum but, when I visited, the museum was unsure of its whereabouts or provenance.
A fourth portrait, today housed in the Lycée Berthollet, is also by an anonymous artist and is simply dated to the seventeenth century. Here we have yet another different-looking Chapuys, not only in facial features but in the bright-red robes he is wearing. This portrait was found hidden in the attic of the local Hôpital de la Providence, which was demolished in 1971. To his left, just beyond the curtain, is the Collège Chappuisien, which presumably means this was painted for the college that Chapuys founded in Annecy.
We have no way of knowing how accurately any of these portraits represent Chapuys; we can only hope that one or more are reasonably true to originals painted during his lifetime. While we have various descriptions of him from observers – fretful, foppish, shrewd, manipulative, intelligent and highly strung, to name a few – somewhere in between lies the real Eustace Chapuys. I must state that throughout the book I alternate between his first and last name. To me it separates the man, Eustace, and the ambassador, Chapuys.
There were claims in the seventeenth century by one branch of the Chapuys family that they had old ties to nobility. It is more credible, however, that the family actually emerged from a community of farmers or artisans around Bonne, in the Faucigny region of western Switzerland. Judging from official records, their upward mobility in Annecy society was due entirely to their own efforts rather than to aristocratic connections. The first Chapuys recorded in Annecy is Eustace’s great-grandfather Pierre, a stonemason who worked on a tower on Annecy’s city wall in 1445. Documents show that it was his son, Anthoine, who took the family’s first step up Annecy’s social ladder. The family must have valued education, as Anthoine became a notary (notaire) in 1450 and was a thriving landowner. Anthoine successfully managed the family’s property portfolio by consolidating and increasing its holdings in Annecy, as well as in the newer districts being developed. The purchases of these properties and the deeds of title have survived in various archives. They give us a detailed insight into the real estate business dealings of the city’s fifteenth-century burghers, a surprisingly large number of whom were, like Anthoine, acting as notaries.
Anthoine married three times – all to women named Jeanne – and produced three sons: Pierre and Louis (Eustace’s father) from his first marriage, and Bernardin from his second. The date of Anthoine’s death is uncertain, but his name is missing from Annecy’s tax roll of 24 May 1478. He would have died confident in the knowledge that his talent for property acquisitions had secured the family’s financial and social position. One son, Bernardin, became a monk at the Abbey of Entremont in the Duchy of Savoy, and records indicate that the other sons, Pierre and Louis, were living at the time in the recently extended family home. Both were ambitious and career-minded, and became notaries like their father. Pierre was also a municipal official, while Louis was elected twice to the Syndicus, which represented Annecy at the Savoy court, and sat on the town council. His letterhead bore the coat of arms of the Count of Geneva – two blue lions on a white background – a privilege conferred only to a select few. The Chapuys family adopted an inverted version of this coat of arms, as seen in one of Eustace’s portraits. The town hall building that Louis frequented is today a presbytery of the church of Notre Dame de Liesse.
Louis and Guigone had three daughters – Bartholomée, Françoise and Louise – and three sons – Jean, Eustace and Philibert. Louis clearly had an aptitude for law, acquiring a law degree and various legal titles – a talent he passed to Eustace. Louis soon encountered problems.
One occurred in January 1487, when Imperial troops en route to Berne and Fribourg in Switzerland broke their journey in Annecy. In order to spare the populace the burden of housing them, members of Annecy Council elected to fund their billets from their own pockets. It would take Louis Chapuys some time to recover from this considerable expense. When Annecy received a charter to create a town market in 1492, Louis Chapuys was appointed the Market Overseer. Regrettably, there was general dissatisfaction with his administration and he lost the support of the shopkeepers. After an official from Lausanne met the merchants in the summer of 1492, Louis was forced to relinquish his position as Overseer. It was a humiliating affair, but surprisingly the townspeople of Annecy appear to have harboured no ill feeling towards Louis. He continued to make himself indispensable in the court of law, and his counsel was highly sought after. Despite his mismanagement as Market Overseer, he was appointed as the prime contractor, maître d’oeuvre, for the construction of a new road from Albigny to Pierre Mageriaz – a fortunate appointment, as Louis had a number of properties that would benefit from the road.
Although by all accounts a very charming person with great enthusiasm for civic projects, it seems that Louis could never quite focus on the task at hand. On 23 May 1488, a progress report found the project was a shambles: great stones lay on the roadside waiting to be laid, and there were few workers or carts about. Louis somehow avoided being severely reprimanded and the report merely noted: ‘ipsia visio non perfecte potuit fieri’ (the vision has not yet been perfectly realised). Although we have no accounts written by Louis himself, he was clearly charming and adept at extricating himself from messes of his own making. However, like his father, Louis was financially astute and continued to expand the family’s holdings, no doubt greatly assisted by his position on Annecy’s council. Pierre and Louis are recorded as owning a house in the medieval centre of Annecy in 1484, and on 23 April that year Louis purchased properties in the flourishing new district around Notre Dame de Liesse, then considered the ‘premier’ neighbourhood of Annecy.
This then was the social milieu into which Eustace was born: a provincial middle-class family, probably regarded as enterprising commoners by local nobility, but financially comfortable as long as their properties provided an income and could be mortgaged or sold to raise money. Garrett Mattingly, in his biography of Katherine of Aragon, describes the Chapuys family as ‘a clannish, unadventurous breed, sticking stubbornly to small gains, pushing their way by inches up the narrow social ladder of their little native town’. This seems a harsh judgement on a family whose only resources for improving their lot were their wits and careful preservation of their modest financial gains. To this, Ursula Schwarzkopf retorts that as a result of ‘the bourgeois persistence … to nag the council into allowing the family to increase its ownership and thereby its prestige … then the family’s fortunes grew as the vines in a vineyard’. This is hardly ‘pushing their way by inches up the narrow social ladder’.
As for the political and cultural milieu in which the future Imperial ambassador was raised and educated, this was of course that of late fifteenth- to early sixteenth-century Humanism and the Renaissance. The old political, religious and scholarly regimes were coming into question. Old feudal structures were beginning to weaken, city and ducal states were jockeying for power, and the Church of Rome was beginning to struggle to maintain its hold on European society. The shock of the Reformation was about to be unleashed. Scientific and scholarly inquiry were making advances, driven largely by secular men of letters. These men took advantage of Gutenberg’s new printing press to distribute and absorb the New Learning and meet demands for works (including religious texts) in vernacular languages rather than Latin. It was to such intellectual influences that the young Eustace was increasingly exposed.
Historian, Lauren Mackay
To win a free copy of the book, please leave a comment below with your name clearly stated. I will ask Lauren to choose one lucky winner from the entries. The competition will close in one week’s time, on Sunday 13th April.
Inside the Tudor Court was published by Amberley Publishing on 11th February, 2014. You can purchase your copy via the Book Depository, which gives free worldwide delivery on all orders, on Amazon UK, or Amazon US.