Juan Luis Vives was a Jewish Spaniard and a renowned scholar in the 16th century, who fled Spain to avoid the Inquisition. Lord High Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More, offered him the job to tutor Princess Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, which he accepted to become a well-known member of the Tudor court. But he is “missing from English history books,” according to Tim Darcy Ellis, who has written a fascinating novel on Mr Vives based on historical accounts.
In his book, ‘The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives,’ Mr Ellis explores the 500-year-old tale of how Mr Vives became trapped in the divorce feud between Henry VIII and his first wife and lived to tell the tale.
He pieced together extracts of Mr Vives’ original writings to work on a fictional account of his life – and, in doing so, made some remarkable discoveries.
Mr Ellis told Express.co.uk: “At school, I was only taught English history and it was very much the Seventies and Eighties – a post-colonial, post-war era – as well as reading books from the Twenties and Thirties.
“I feel like you just accepted that narrative and didn’t ask too many questions.
500-year-old accounts shine a light on Henry VIII’s life
Many Jewish people died in the Spanish Inquisition
“Many Spanish characters were seen as dark and sinister, plotting and wanted to see the Queen get her head chopped off – I feel like we almost saw them as the enemy and didn’t look at any potential over how they contributed.
“I feel like with Vives, he really improved society for a lot of people in England at the time, especially women, poor people and those with sickness.”
Henry VIII is best known for his six marriages, and in particular, his efforts to have the first, with Catherine of Aragon, annulled.
And 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 added: “As soon as he came to England, Vives lodged with the More family, but very early on he would have met the monarchs and then he went to Oxford University.
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Henry VIII is renowned for his marriages
“So gradually over a year or two, he was involved in royal court affairs and would have been invited to events.
“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.
“It’s extraordinary the attacks he launched at people who we see 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.”
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Tim Darcy Ellis is the author of a new book
Henry’s disagreement with Pope Clement VII over his divorce led him to initiate the 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.
Eventually, Mr Vives would see himself imprisoned for going against Henry and warning him of his “arrogance,” but escaped before the break.
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.
Mr Vives is said to have supported Catherine of Aragon
Thomas More supported Mr Vives
“He was quite outspoken, but in terms of the break with Rome, Vives doesn’t comment much about that and I don’t think he would see it as a bad thing.
“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.”
During his 36-year reign as King of England, Henry VIII executed up to 57,000 people.
But Mr Ellis says Mr Vives had managed to manipulate and keep Henry under control, escaping before his “bad phase”.
The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives is out now
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.