‘The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII’ Interview with Suzannah Lipscomb

Suzannah Lipscomb is the author of ‘The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII’, ‘1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII’, and ‘A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England.’

To buy ‘The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII’:


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Twitter: @sixteenthCgirl
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Many thanks to Suzannah for answering my questions.

(c) Head of Zeus

(c) Head of Zeus

Why did you choose this subject for your book?

Henry VIII’s last will and testament is one of the most intriguing and contested documents in British history. Historians have disagreed over its intended meaning, its authenticity, and the circumstances of its creation. What we think about Henry VIII’s will tells us much about Henry in the last year of his life – the extent to which he had lost power and was being manipulated by factions, the final state of his religious faith, his intentions for the future – and dictated much of the course of the Tudor century that followed. It seemed to me that forensically examining his will and the environment in which it was drawn up might yield much insight into his reign – and it did.

And, when I was prevaricating about whether to write it or not, Dan Jones ultimately persuaded me to do it.

What does your book add to existing works about Henry VIII?

I hope that readers will agree that it gives an entirely new perspective on the last year of Henry VIII’s life. It challenges the existing orthodoxy about his will being the product of a conspiracy, which means a total re-reading of Henry’s character in his dying days.

Does Henry’s will differ in any major way from those of previous monarchs?

It differs greatly from those of previous monarchs. Kings like Henry VI and Edward IV spent the great majority of their wills apportioning their estates. Henry VIII’s will had a different raison d’être: it was dedicated to making plans for the succession – moving through a long list of different succession scenarios – and establishing a regency council who would govern during the years of Edward VI’s minority.

Was this really the last will and testament of Henry VIII or was it added to after this death?

It certainly wasn’t added to after his death, and no historians have contended that. Some have suggested that it was tampered with after signature, and that ‘minimal and subtle forgeries’ were inserted into it at that time, in the last month of Henry VIII’s life. In this book, I argue that the evidence adduced to support this position is flawed or flimsy, and that this was indeed Henry VIII’s will – the product of his own volition.

Do you think that Henry would have expected his plan for a regency council during Edward VI’s minority, to be so speedily over thrown?

I am absolutely certain that he would have been both astonished and outraged that his ‘entirely beloved’ counsellors, in whom he placed so much trust, overthrew his wishes so quickly after his death.

What surprised you most researching this book?

Some of the errors in previous analyses of the will.

Why do you think that Henry VIII included the heirs of Lady Frances (Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey) as possible successors to the crown but not Frances herself?

There is no indication given in the will for his reasons. I suspect it was either something in the character of Frances herself that made Henry think her unsuitable, or, more likely, the character of her husband, Henry Grey, would have been the de facto monarch. He is one of the only peers who is notable by his absence on the regency council.

Do you agree with Janel Mueller that the prayer book used by Lady Jane at her execution was written by and given to her by Catherine Parr?

Yes, this seems convincing to me. I include a picture of it in the book.

What does the will tell us about Henry VIII?

The whole book is dedicated to telling us what the will has to say about Henry VIII, so I probably can’t do it justice in a line, except that it serves both as a microcosm of Henry VIII’s life – he says his ‘chief labour and study in this world’ has been to establish Edward ‘in the crown imperial of this realm’, which could be his mission statement – and reminds us of his indomitable character, even to the very end.

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Jane’s letter to Thomas Harding

One of the surviving letters written by Lady Jane was to Thomas Harding (her former chaplain), in response to the news that he had converted to Catholicism. Ives writes, ‘Clearly it was written immediately Jane heard that her former chaplain – ‘a most active preacher of the gospel’ – had reneged on his beliefs, but when she learned of the apostasy can only be guessed. The probability is the late autumn of 1553, by which time other reformers in Oxford had conformed to the new regime.’ (p.253-4, Ives)

‘So oft as I call to mind (dear friend and chosen Brother) the dreadful and fearful says of God, that he which layeth hold upon the plough and looketh back again, is not meet for the kingdom of heaven; and on the other side to remember the comfortable words of our Saviour Christ, to all those that forsaking themselves do follow him, I cannot but marvel at thee and lament thy case; that thou, which sometimes wert the lively member of Christ, but now the deformed imp of the devil; sometimes the beautiful temple of God, but now the stinking and filthy kennel of Satan; sometimes the unspotted spouse of thy Saviour, but now the unshamefast paramour of Antichrist; sometimes my faithful brother, but now a stranger and apostate; yea sometimes my stout Christian solder, but now a cowardly runaway. So oft as I consider the threatening and promises of the divine Justice to all those which faithfully love him, I cannot but speak to thee, yea, rather cry out and exclaim against thee, thou seed of Satan, and not of Juda, whom the devil hath deceived, the world hath beguiled, and desire of life hath subverted, and made of a Christian an infidel.

Wherefore hast thou taken upon thee the Testament of the Lord in thy mouth? Wherefore hast thou hitherto yielded thy body to the fire, and to the bloody hands of cruel tyrants? Wherefore hast thou instructed others to be strong in Christ, when thou theyself dost now so horribly abuse the testament and law of the Lord; when thou thyself preaches (as it were not to steal) yet most abominably stealest, not from men but from God, and as a most heinous sacrilegious robber, robbest Christ thy redeemer of his right in his members, they body and they soul; when thou thyself dost rather choose to live miserably (with shame) in this world, rather than to die gloriously and reign in honour with Christ, to the end of all eternity, in whom even in death there is life beyond wish, beyond all expression; and when, I say, thou thyself art most weak, though oughtest to show thyself most strong, for the strength of a fort is known before the assault, but thou yieldest (like a faint captain) they hold before any battery be brought against thee.

Oh wretched and unhappy man what art thou but dust and ashes, and wilt thou resist thy maker, that formed and fashioned thee; wilt thou now forsake him that called thee from custom gathering among the Romish Antichristians, to be an ambassador and messenger of his eternal word; he that first framed thee, and since thy creation and birth preserved thee, nourished thee, and kep thee, yea, and inspired thee with the spirit of knowledge (I cannot, I would I could say of grace) shall he not possess thee, darest thou deliver up they self to another, being not thine own but his? How canst thou, having knowledge; or how darest thou neglect the law of the Lord, and follow the vain traditions of men? and whereas thou hast been a public professor of his name, become now a defacer of his glory. I will not refuse the true God, and worship the invention of man, the folden calf, the whore of Babylon, the Romish religion, the abominable idol, the most wicked mass: wilt thou torment again, rent and tear the most precious body of our Saviour Christ with thy bodily and fleshy teeth without the breaking whereof upon the cross, our sins and transgression, could else no way be redeemed? wilt thou take upon thee to offer up any sacrifice unto God for our sins, considering that Christ offered up himself (as St. Paul saith) upon the Cross, a lively sacrifice once for all.

Can neither the punishment of the Israelites (which for their idolatry so oft they received) move thee; neither the terrible threatenings of the ancient prophets stir thee, nor the crosses of God’s own mouth fear thee to honour any other God than him? wilt thou so regard him that spared not his dear and only son for thee, so diminishing, yea, utterly extinguishing his glory, that thou wilt attribute the praise and honour to idols, which have mouths and speak not, eyes and see not, ears and yet hear not, which shall perish with them that made them: what saith the prophet Baruck, where he reciteth the epistle of Jeremy, written to the captive Jews? did he not forewarn them that in Babylon they should see gods of gold, silver, wood and stone, borne upon men’s shoulders to cause a fear upon the heathen? but be not you afraid of them (saith Jeremy) nor do as others do: but when you see others worship them, say you in your hearts, it is thou (O Lord) that oughtest only to be worshipped: for as touching the timber of those gods the carpenter framed them and polished them, yea guilded they be and laid over with silver and vain things and cannot speak: he sheweth moreover, the abuse of their deckings how the priests took off their ornaments, and apparelled there women therewithal: how one holdeth a sceptre, another a sword in his hand, and yet can they judge in no matter, nor defend themselves, much less any other, from either hatred or murder, not yet from knowing worms, dust, filth, or any other evil thing; these and such like words speaketh Jeremy unto them, whereby he proveth them but vain things, and no gods, and at last he concludeth thus; confounded be those that worship them.

They were warned by Jeremy, and thou as Jeremy hast warned others and art warned thyself by many Scriptures in many places.

God, saith he, is a jealous Gof, which will have all honour, glory, and worship given to him only. And Christ saith in the fourth of Like, to satan which tempted him, even to the same satan, the same Belzebub, the same devil which hath prevailed against thee: it is written (saith he) thou shalt honour the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

These and suck like do prohibit thee, and all Christians to worship any other God than he which was before all worlds, and laid the foundations both of heaven and earth, and wilt thou honour a detestable idol invented by the Popes of Rome, and the uncharitable college of politic Cardinals?

Christ offered up himself once for all, and wilt thou offer him up again daily at thy pleasure? but thou wilt say thou doest it for a good intent: Oh sink of sin! Oh child of perdition! canst thou dream of any good intent therein, when thy conscience beareth thee witness of the wrath of God promised against thee?

How did Saul, who for that be disobeyed the word of God for a good intent, was thrown from his wordly and temporal kingdom: shalt thou then which dost so deface God’s honour and rob him of his right, inherit the eternal heavenly kingdom? wilt thou for a good intent pluck Christ out of heaven, and make his death void, and deface the triumph of his cross, offering him up daily? Wilt thou either for fear of death, or hope of life, deny and refuse thy God, who enriched thy poverty? healed thy infirmity, and yielded to this victory if thou wouldst have kept it? dost thou not consider that the thread of life hangeth upon him that made thee, who can (as will is) either twine it hard to last the longer, or untwine it again to break the sooner? Dost thou not remember the saying of David, a notable king, which teacheth thee, a miserable wretch, in his … Psalm, where he saith, When thou takest away thy spirit, O Lord, from men, they die, and are turned again to their dust, but when thou lettest thy breath go forth, they shall be made, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Remember the saying of Christ in his Gospel, whosoever seeketh to save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose it for my sake shall find it; and in another place, whosoever loveth father or mother above me, is not meet for me, for he that will be my disciple, must forsake father and mother, and himself, and take up his cross and follow me: what cross? the cross of infamy and shame, of misery and poverty, of affliction and persecution, for his name sake.

Let the oft falling of those heavenly showers pierce thy stony heart; let the two-edged sword of God’s holy word hew asunder the knit-together sinews of worldly respects, even to the very marrow and life blood of thy carnal heart, that thou mayst once again forsake thyself to embrace Christ, and like as good subjects will not refuse to hazard all in the defence of their earthly and temporal governors, so fly not like a white livered milk-sop from the standard, whereby thy chief Captain, Christ, hath placed thee in a noble array of this life; viriliter ago confortetur cor tuum et sustine dominum, fight manfully, come life, come death, the quarrel is God’s, and undoubtedly the victory is ours.

But thou wilt say, I will not break unity; what? not the unity of satan and his members, not the unity of darkness, the agreement of antichrist and his adherents? nay, then thou deceives thyself with fond imaginations of such an unity as is amongst the enemies of Christ: were not the false prophets in an unity? were not Joseph’s brethren, Jacob’s sons, in an unity? were not the heathen as the Amelechites, the Peresites and Jebusites in an unity? I keep no order but look rather to my matter: where not the Scribes and Pharisees in an unity? doth not King David testify, convenient in unum adversus. Dominum, yes, thieves and murderers, conspirators and traitors have their unity.

Mark my dear friend (yea friend if thou beest not God’s enemy,) there is no unity but when Christ knitteth the knot amongst such as be his, yea, be you well assured that where his truth is resident, there it is verified, that he saith, Non veni mittere pacem in terram sed gladium, that is, Christ came to set one against another; the son against the father, the daughter against the mother: deceive not thyself therefore with the glistering and glorious name of unity, for antichrist hath his unity, yet not in deed, but in name, for the agreement of evil men is not an unity, but a conspiracy.

Thou hast heard some threatenings, some curses, and some admonishments of the Scriptures, to those who love themselves above Christ.

Thou hast heard also the sharp and biting words to those which deny him for love of life, saith he not, that he which denieth me before men, I will deny him before my father which is in heaven: and to the same effect writeth St. Paul in the vi. to the Hebrews, saying, it is impossible that they which have been once lightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift of grace, and been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have relished of the pure word of God, if they fall and slide away, it is impossible that they should be renewed again by repentance, crucifying again to themselves the Son of God, and making him as it were a mocking-stock, or gaude of their fancies. And again, (saith he) if we shall willingly sin after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there is no oblation left for sin, but the terrible expectation of judgment and fire which shall devour adversaries. Thus St. Paul writeth, and thus thou readest, and dost thou not quake and tremble? well, if these terrible and thundering alarums cannot stir thee to arise and cleave unto Christ, and forsake the world, yet let the sweet consolations and promises of the Scriptures: let the examples of Christ and his Apostles, both Martyrs and Confessors, encourage thee to take faster hold by Christ . Hearken what he saith again in his holy Gospel; blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you for my sake, rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the Prophets before you.

Hear what Esau saith: fear not the curse of men, be not afraid of their blasphemies and railings, for worms and moths shall eat them up like cloth and wool, but my righteousness shall endure for ever, and my saving health from generation to generation: what art thou then (saith he) that fearest a mortal man, the child of a man, which fadeth away as doth the flower, and forgettest the Lord that made thee, that spread out the heavens like a curtain, and laid the foundations of the earth so sure, that they cannot be removed: I am the Lord thy God, which maketh the sea to rage and to be still, who is the Lord of hosts; I shall put my word in thy mouth, and defend thee with the turning of a hand. And our Saviour Christ saith to his disciples, they shall accuse you, and bring you before the princes and rulers for my name sake, and some of you they shall persecute and kill: but fear you not (saith he) neither care you not what you shall say, for it is my spirit that speaketh in you, the hand of the highest shall defend you, for the hairs of your heads are numbered, and none of them shall perish. I have laid up treasure for you (saith he) where no thief can steal, not moth corrupt, and happy are you if you endure to the end. Fear not them (saith Christ) which have power both over the body and the soul; the world loveth her own, and if you were of the world the world would love you, but you are mind, and therefore the world doth hate you.

Let these, and such like consolations out of the Scriptures strengthen you to God-ward; let not the examples of holy men and women go out of your mind, as that of Daniel, and the rest of the prophets; of the three children of Eleazarus, that constant father; the Machabees’ children, that of Peter, Paul, Stephen, and other Apostles and holy Martyrs, in the beginning and infancy of the Church; as of good Simeon, Archbishop of Seloma, and Zetrophone, with infinite others, under Sapores the king of the Persians and Indians, who condemned all torments devised by the tyrants for their Saviour’s sake.
Return, return again for honour and mercy’s sake into the way of Christ Jesus, and as becometh a faithful soldier, put on that armour which St. Paul teacheth to be most necessary for a Christian man, and above all things take to you the shield of faith.

And be you most devoutly provoked by Christ’s own example, to withstand the devil, to forsake the world, and to become a true and faithful member of his mystical body, who spared not his own flesh for our sins. Throw down thyself with the fear of his threatened vengeance for this so great and heinous offence of apostacy, and comfort yourself on the other part with the mercy, blood and promises of him that he ready to turn to you whensoever you turn to him: disdain not to come again with the lost son, seeing you have so wandered with him: be not ashamed to turn again with him from the swill of strangers, to the delicates of the most benign and loving father, acknowledging that you have sinned against heaven and earth; against heaven by staining his glorious name, and causing his most sincere and pure word to be evil spoken of through you; against earth by offending your so many weak brethren to whom you have been a stumbling block through your sudden sliding.

Be not ashamed to come again with Mary, and to weep bitterly with Peter, not only with shedding of tears out of your bodily eyes, but also pouring out the streams of your heart, to wash away, out of the sight of God, the filth and mire of your offensive fall; be not ashamed to say with the publican, Lord be merciful unto me a sinner: remember the horrible history of Julian of old, and the lamentable case of Francis Spira of late, whose remembrance me thinketh should be yet so green to your memory, that being a thing of our time, you should fear the like inconvenience, seeing that you are fallen into the like offence. Last of all, let the lively remembrance of the last day be always before your eyes, remembering the terror that such shall be in at that time, with the runagates and fugitives from Christ, which setting more by the world than by heaven, more by their life, than by him that gave them their life, more by the vanity of a painful breath, then the perfect assurance of eternal salvation, did shrink; yea, did clean fall away from him that never forsook them. And contrariwise, the inestimable joys prepared for them which feared no peril, nor dreading death, have manfully fought, and victoriously triumphed over all power of darkness; over hell, death, and damnation, through their most redoubted captain JESUS CHRIST our Saviour, who even now stretcheth out his arms to receive you, ready to fall upon your neck, and kiss you: and last of all, to feast you with the dainties and delicates of his own most precious blood, which undoubtedly, if it might stand with his determinate purpose, he would not let to shed again, rather that you should be lost; to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour, praise, and glory everlastingly. Amen.

Your’s, if you be Christ’s,

Jane Grey


Be constant, be constant, fear not for pain,
Christ hath deliver’d thee, and heav’n is thy gain.



Ives, E. (2009) Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Wiley-Blackwell.

Nicolas, N.H Harding, The Literary Remains of Lady Jane Grey: With a Memoir of Her Life, Triphook & Lepard.

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13th November 1553…

The trial of Lady Jane and Guildford Dudley.

The Guildhall

The Guildhall

Events by Place – Guildhall

On this day

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Books 2016 – A book by Tracy Borman that features Lady Jane to look forward to in 2016

19th May – The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman

‘’I do not live in a corner. A thousand eyes see all I do.’ Elizabeth I

The Tudor monarchs were constantly surrounded by an army of attendants, courtiers and ministers. Even in their most private moments, they were accompanied by a servant specifically appointed for the task. A groom of the stool would stand patiently by as Henry VIII performed his daily purges, and when Elizabeth I retired for the evening, one of her female servants would sleep at the end of her bed.

These attendants knew the truth behind the glamorous exterior. They saw the tears shed by Henry VII upon the death of his son Arthur. They knew the tragic secret behind ‘Bloody’ Mary’s phantom pregnancies. And they saw the ‘crooked carcass’ beneath Elizabeth I’s carefully applied makeup, gowns and accessories.

It is the accounts of these eyewitnesses, as well as a rich array of other contemporary sources that historian Tracy Borman has examined more closely than ever before. With new insights and discoveries, and in the same way that she brilliantly illuminated the real Thomas Cromwell – The Private Life of the Tudors will reveal previously unexamined details about the characters we think we know so well.’

From Hodder.co.uk

Further details – Hodder.co.uk

Further details – Tracy Borman

Further details – Amazon.co.uk

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Lady Jane mentioned in BBC History Magazine

Lady Jane Grey and her sisters get a brief mention in the November issue of BBC History Magazine, which is on sale now.

(c) BBC History Magazine

(c) BBC History Magazine

The article ‘Who Hijacked Henry VIII’s Will?’ by Suzannah Lipscomb, looks at how ‘historians have long argued that the Tudor king’s last will and testament was the product not of his own volition, but of a shadow court conspiracy. But are they right?’ (p.23, BBC History Magazine)

(c) Head of Zeus

(c) Head of Zeus

Suzannah Lipscomb’s new book, ‘The King is Dead’ was published on 5 November.

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