Juan Luis Vives was a Jewish scholar in the 16th century, who fled Spain to avoid the Inquisition. He tutored Princess Mary, daughter of Catherine Aragon and Henry VIII, thanks to the work of his friend Sir Thomas More, who was Chancellor of England at the time. Mr Vives would go on to become a well-known member of the Tudor court, but is “missing from English history books” according to Tim Darcy Ellis, who has written a fascinating novel on the scholar based on historical accounts.
In his book, ‘The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives,’ Mr Ellis explores how Mr Vives became trapped in the bitter feud between Henry VIII and his first wife, as the King tried to get the marriage annulled.
Mr Ellis detailed how Mr Vives played a pivotal role in the process by “working both sides” to support his own goals of “making sure Christian rulers took care of everyone in their realms”.
He said: “You can see with Vives that his confidence grows through his writing, I feel that after his father was executed [as part of the Inquisition] he had one chance to say how he felt.
“He started ripping into the Pope, the Archbishop of Seville, Emperor Charles V, and Henry VIII with incredible bravery really.
Juan Luis Vives played a crucial role in Tudor history
Sir Thomas More helped Vives get his job in England
“It’s extraordinary the attacks he launched at people who thought nothing of chopping a head off.
“He supported Catherine of Aragon against Henry when he was trying to divorce her and he ended up in prison just before he was finally expelled from England.”
Henry’s divorce desires eventually led to a disagreement with Pope Clement VII as he initiated English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority.
He appointed himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated.
And Mr Ellis explained how Mr Vives capitalised on this opportunity before the break, as Henry relied on him as a key part of the process.
Tim Darcy Ellis revealed the story of Vives
He said: “From my understanding, his primary goal was to persuade the monarchs to provide a peaceful haven for his people throughout Europe.
“That wasn’t just Jews, his main driving force was bringing peace – he was a real pacifist.
“He was able to manipulate both for a period of time and when Henry was looking to divorce Catherine, he was looking for Jewish support for his argument.
“So he was looking to Vives, someone who knew the Bible very well, so he was really working him.”
Eventually, Mr Vives would see himself imprisoned for going a step too far with Henry after warning him of his “arrogance,” but escaped before the break.
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The Trial of Catherine of Aragon
Henry VIII was a brutal King
Mr Ellis explained: “He was imprisoned for six weeks and then given a day to get out.
“By the time the break with the Church happened in the 1530s he was safely back in Flanders, and that was a point in his life where he was really giving thought about attacking the Church.
“It’s part of his skill of oratory and persuasion – a very clever man who could manipulate the key players at the right time.
“He just about manipulated his relationship with Thomas More – who spoke up for him – and the Queen who did too.”
The new book is out now
But Mr Ellis says Mr Vives had managed to manipulate and keep Henry under control, escaping before his “bad phase”.
He continued: “I feel there was some special connection that Catherine had with Vives and in that last moment before it was decided if he would be beheaded or leave the country, that she spoke up for him.
“In that moment he took pity, and I think his bad phase actually started six or seven years later, this is a period where he is a little bit softer.
“He was a little bit kinder, and that worked well for Vives.”
‘The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives’ is published by Tellwell Talent and available to purchase here.