Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Question from Shae - Chapuys quote

Hello there!

I'm studying Katherine Howard's life, and have frequently come across this quote from Chapuys:

"She is a pretty young creature, with wit enough to do as badly as the others if she were to try"

It's a popular quote - it's cited frequently - but nobody can seem to agree on who 'she' is: based on the majority of studies I've read of Katherine Howard's reign, the most popular view is that 'she' is Lady Elizabeth Wyatt (the wife of Thomas Wyatt.) However she would have been around 40 at the time so this seems to not fit, despite it being the most popular choice. If not her, then people argue that Chapuys meant Elizabeth Brooke, the niece of Elizabeth Wyatt. Which fits more, since she was younger, but why the insistence on it being a Wyatt/Brooke?

It's also been described as being about Katherine Howard, herself, very often.

Where is this quote from, and is there someone to access the full thing online? Can anybody clear up who the quote is referring to? I find it unlikely to be Katherine Howard, but I don't understand why the Brooke/Wyatts crop up so often.


shtove said...

Here's transcript of Chapuys' letter (#92):
"Wrote on the 29th ult of the Queen's condemnation and that of the duchess of Norfolk, her daughter, (fn. 13) and lady Rochford. Till then the King had never been merry since first hearing of the Queen's misconduct; but he has been so since, especially on the 29th, when he gave a supper and banquet with 26 ladies at his table, besides gentlemen, and 35 at another table close by. The lady for whom he showed the greatest regard was the sister of lord Cobham, whom Wyatt sometime ago repudiated for adultery. She is a pretty young creature, with wit enough to do as badly as the others if she were to try."

Wikipedia on Wyatt cites a book from 2012 confirming the separation from Elizabeth Brooke - I guess it was a divorce from bed and board:

Foose said...

The original French of Chapuys' report says "belle jeusne fille," not "creature" - which to my mind supports the idea that Chapuys may have confused the identification of the ladies Brooke. The younger Elizabeth Brooke was indeed a famous beauty and still a "fille" (girl) in 1542, and would fit better with Chapuys' interpretation of Henry's behavior. Chapuys may have garbled the information he received because of the ladies having the same name, and possibly because a popular trope of the medieval and Renaissance culture was the older man cuckolded by a beautiful, much younger wife. Also, was the elder Elizabeth Brooke still able to come to court after being repudiated? Even if she was, I think Henry courting an openly adulterous wife - in Chapuys' view with an eye to marriage - so soon upon the condemnation of Kathryn Howard seems unlikely.

On the other hand, the original French also says she was "assez experit" - translated as 'wit enough" but I think actually meaning "experienced enough." This might support the cause of the elder Elizabeth Brooke, but it might just be Chapuys casting a slur on a popular girl who knows how to manage the court gallants who cluster around her.

Foose said...

Hmm, looking at the Google Books screen again I think "experit" might actually be "esprit (wit)," since the clause is "a assez experit/esprit." I have found examples of "esprit" being spelled "esperit" in Middle French (the "x" might be there in the original, or it might be a mangling of the Google scanner).

There is also a Middle French verb espirir, which might fit, as "espirit" would be the past tense; the meaning is related to esprit, implying something like "awakened" - maybe "wide-awake enough to do as badly as the others," perhaps.

shtove said...

A fuller translation (#230):
"My despatch of the 29th ult. must have informed Your Imperial Majesty of the queen's condemnation and sentence, as well as that of the duchess of Norfolk, her daughter, and of Mme. de Rochefort, which Parliament passed on the morning of that day. Until then the King had shown no alacrity or joy, not even when he first heard of his queen's misdemeanour; but since he was informed of the trial and subsequent condemnation on the 29th he has considerably changed, for on the night of that day he gave a grand supper, and invited to it several ladies and gentlemen of his court. There were no less than 26 at his table including the gentlemen, and at another table close by 35. (fn. 1) The lady for whom he showed the greater predilection on the occasion was no other than the sister of Monsieur Coban (Cobham) the same lady whom Master Huyet (Whyatt) did some time ago repudiate on a charge of adultery. She is a pretty young creature, and has sense enough to do as the others have done should she consider it worth her while. (fn. 2)"
2 "Elle est belle jeusne fille et a assez experit pour si elle lentrepregnoit faire aussy mal que les autres."

Strangely "mal" isn't taken into account in the final sentence.

And another this time - she is sister of Wyatt's wife:

"By his last, of the 29th ult., advertised the condemnation by Parliament of the Queen and ladies Norfolk, her daughter (fn. 7) and Rochford. Until then this King had never, since he detected the Queen's conduct, shown joy; as he has done since, especially on the said 29th., when he gave a supper and banquet to the ladies, 26 of whom were at his table, with certain lords, and 35 at an adjoining table. She to whom, for the time, he showed most favor and affection was the sister of lord Coban and of the wife whom Mr. Huyet repudiated for adultery. She is a beautiful girl, with wit enough, if she tried, to do as badly as the others."

The possibility of sister of Wyatt's wife is interesting, although I suppose Foose could discount this with a quick look at the French original.

The Brookes confusion is referred to at this footnote on wikipedia (#6):,_Lady_Wyatt#cite_note-Emerson-6

Foose said...

I found an account of the original French, which tends to support the shtove's 3rd interpretation (a sister of both Lord Cobham and the adulterous wife):

"Et celle a qui pour l'heure il monstra plus de faveur et affection fust la seur de monsieur Coban et de la femme que M. Huet a pieca repudiee pour adultere. Elle est belle jeusne fille, et a d'assez esperit pour, si l'entreprenoit, fere aussi mal que les autres."

The addition of "d'" in front of "assez esperit," by the way, I think makes it conclusive that "esperit" is "esprit."

Susan Brigden, author of a recent work on Wyatt, comes down in favor of the niece, however, and also explains that Wyatt was forced to take back his wife in 1541 at Henry's demand - so perhaps the scandalous woman could come to court. Elizabeth Brooke the elder had five sisters, so it's possible that Chapuys did mean one of them, but I still think it's more likely he may have confused the exact relationship of the younger Elizabeth Brooke with Lord Cobham and her aunt.

shtove said...

Foose, you have access to 2 different French versions?

If so, any statement about identity is speculation - sadly, the original information has been lost. Entropy, you win again!

Another angle is the Spanish talk about H8's intentions - the wikipedia article references it here (#2):,_Lady_Wyatt#CITEREFHart2009

Interesting that a nice phrase from Tudor historiography turns out so complicated.

shtove said...

Foose, I liked this exchange.

I googled your French excerpt but it directed me to this page. Any chance you can give the source? Thanks.

Foose said...

Sorry, just checked back on this and saw your query.

The first French version comes from the Calendar of State Papers for Spain 1542; Chapuys' original comment is in the footnotes.

I found the second French version in the 1855 Compte rendu des seances de la Commission Royale d'Histoire, ou Recueil de ses bulletins, on Google Books. The source appears to be a compilation and analysis of various historical letters and documents relating to Belgium's history, and Chapuys' reports fall into that category (as the Habsburgs once ruled Belgium).

The key to finding the second source is to type one of the French phrases (in quotation marks) into Google and then type Chapuis, not Chapuys (Chapuis being an alternate spelling). The ambassador's Sixieme Lettre contains the full account, signed "Chappuys" (I have no idea why "Chapuis" called this up.)

I don't know how "pure" a source the 1855 collection is. Likely it was edited, much as our beloved Letters & Papers, was edited, and the introduction of "d'" in front of assez esperit may reflect a fussy cleanup of the original grammar by the 19th-century editor. The parallel might be Gairdner or someone else translating fille as "creature," which seems rather overly prejudicial against the lady.

Or possibly the leaving out of a "d'" in the Spanish Calendar may have been a mistake of the editors of Letters & Papers. It's hard to know conclusively unless someone has access to the actual document or a photograph of it.

Hope this helps. I never meant that Chapuys wrote the comment two times, or the comment exists in two variant versions - just that I found two secondary sources that recorded the statements.

shtove said...