The Story of the Broken Sword


History can paint stuff out. Can’t it?

Yesterday I had walked straight past an ancient picture of a man who looked like an alchemist, dressed in black, sitting in blackness, when one of the restorers called me back.

“Course,” he said to me confidentially, “you know who that is, don’t you?”


And I combed through everything I knew about the house I stood in. When that picture was painted, The Vyne – a beautiful house next to a lake in Hampshire – would have belonged to a man called William Sandys, a favourite of Bluff King Hal. He was a Knight of the Garter. He had served Henry’s father, and he hosted Henry and Ann Boleyn at the house once. A year after that he was escorting Ann to the Tower of London.

So: a key player.

“William Sandys?” I hazarded.

The restorer smiled conspiratorially. Here was an impossibly useful nugget of historical gossip to impart. He stopped brushing the gorgeous ceramic lamp on which he had been Β bent, and settled himself for a story.

“That,” he said, “is a man called Philip Chute.”

Now: those Chutes. They weave their way through the history books. Chaloner was a speaker in the House of Commons under Cromwell the Younger; John was a very close friend of Horace Walpole and sat on his ‘Committee of Taste’.

But Philip? Ah, he was a hidden Chute, a Chute whose story has not been told because Henry VIII could not be seen as, well, a bit of a Charlie. But Henry rewards those who get him out a bit of a hole; and so once he had done the deed history has not recorded, Philip Chute was a wealthy and important man for life, and his descendants after him.

Philip Chute was an important figure under the reigns of Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. He survived the broiling sectarian maelstrom that was England after Henry died, becoming Mary’s Comptroller of Customs and remaining as Governor of Camber Castle under Elizabeth. With one valiant deed, he had rendered himself impervious to harm.

But no-one could work out what that deed was.

It is still a bit murky today,to tell you the truth. To find out anything at all, you have to forsake the English history books, because historians value their heads. It is the French History Books which tell the story of the Siege of Boulogne.

Look over your shoulder from the Siege of Boulogne in 1544, and you may glimpse cloth of gold in 1520. Against all the rules, Henry had got a little carried away posturing with King Francis of France. He challenged him to a wrestling match: and Francis thrashed him.

Boulogne was a chance for payback. By the time Henry arrived the English occupied all the lands on the Boulogne coast, including the lower town and the old Roman lighthouse. But the upper town as a fortress with a drawbridge. And that would take a bit more battering.

So the Boulogners had this trick. They’d wait till it was quiet, then slam down the drawbridge as quickly as they could and charge out fully armed and attack the English, usually with satisfying results. And then they’d run back inside again and shut the door.

This happened a lot. And you would think the English would get used to it, but they didn’t. And when Hal arrived, everyone was flapping about welcoming him and suchlike that they were sitting ducks when the drawbridge slammed down and lots of French soldiers ran out.

Philip was a standard bearer: not a high rank at all. But he was close to Henry and all we can deduce from the French accounts is that Henry’s life was threatened, and the standard bearer saved it.

He was awarded many honours, although no knighthood (mustn’t risk the tale of Henry’s second thrashing at the hands of the French becoming public). And on his heraldic shield they included a device called the Broken Sword.

It’s everywhere at the Vyne: on walls, and weather vanes, and paintings. A reminder of something we don’t like to talk about.

The day the French thrashed Bluff King Hal. A second time.

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49 thoughts on “The Story of the Broken Sword

    1. ….is foverever locked in secrecy between the standard bearer who saved his sovereign, and a king who valued discretion to the point of executing those who crossed the line.

  1. Kings are so often bullies. It’s all that ‘having to be better’ when they were really just human.

    I have been deling with the same attitude this week. Bullying when co-operation would get it done.

  2. Interesting insight, Kate, and a good chuckle – also from Colonialist πŸ˜€ It’s mind-boggling to imagine how much of history is shrouded in secrecy . . .

    1. Absolutely, Tammy. Whole nations are duped with propaganda which can last centuries, it seems. The only reason we know about this incident not because the English chronicled it, but the French.

  3. Every people has history they don’t like to talk about. It’s these stories that fascinate me the most. It amazes me that Henry’s wishes have carried on all this time, that he still influences his legacy.

  4. I am deeply fascinated with historical mysteries and what we know, and sometimes only think we know. But the part that gave me a smile is the way the gentleman working on the restoration project called you back and was so interested in passing along a little bit of story. He somehow knew you’d care, Kate! Very nice!

  5. That dog looks a bit uncomfortable hanging there under the man’s elbow. I guess Philip Chute was one of the lucky ones who didn’t get sent to the tower and the block. He got hush money instead.

    1. Indeed, Gale: his discretion bought him the gratitude of Henry and those who cam after him. And I wonder if he was just one of those people anyone could trust. His career is extraordinary in its longevity.

  6. Ooh, Francis the 1st. I have a crush on him! So accomplished and athletic and handsome. Doesn’t hurt that he was a good wrestler either. There’s a mental picture. Henry V and Francis l
    wrestling…too bad Francis died so young.

    1. It is quite a mental picture, Laura, I had never really thought of that! I suppose I am influenced by the portrait of Francis which hangs near the haunted gallery at Hampton Court: it shows him with a comically large nose. I stand and have a laugh every time I go there.
      Of course, French portrait painters would have flattered any ruler and minimised any exaggerated features.
      I wonder how big his nose really was?

      1. I’ve read a lot about that period in history so I’ve seen quite a few portraits of Francis l in biographies. I think he had a ‘typically’ French nose. I think the french are noted for large noses, aren’t they? Maybe, like Gerard Depardieu, his nose suited him.

  7. Dear Kate, for several weeks I’ve been away from blogging and so I’ve missed my weekly visit to your blog. Your writing and your subject matter are among my favorites of all the blogs I visit. So thank you today for this snippet of history that now lodges in my mind like a cup of tea that has been well brewed and wakes up all my senses when I sip it. I hope that 2014 will bring to you the fulfillment of at least one of your deepest heart-wishes. Peace.

  8. Philip wasn’t even a standard bearer when the 1544 expedition set out; he was a Yeoman of the Guard – one of the elite who had to be strong and handsome and protect the King. He was promoted to standard bearer of the King’s Band by August 1544 which virtually proves that his qualifying deed was in July. So when I went to Boulogne some years ago and unearthed the story you re-tell, I was delighted to find that late on 26 July 1544 an attack by mainly Corsican mercenaries on horseback was aimed directly at the king’s camp at Terlincthun – when the King with his courtiers and guardsmen were just arriving and had not even set up sentries – so it is clear that Philip was as unprepared as the rest and probably saw the official. standard bearer cut down a few yards from the king. Philip evidently leapt to the rescue with his pike or battle-axe, helped fight off the horsemen and the king escaped with the shock of his life.
    The really amusing parts of the story (which your guide at the Vyne omitted) are (a) that the official record of the campaign, published in England after the king’s “victorious return”, never mentions a breath of what happened on 26 July, and (b) a huge painting was made of the Siege of Boulogne showing the king in full armour directing operations. What could not be shown was that the king, in truth, was so palsied and swollen in the leg that he could barely stand, had to be carried in a litter and certainly couldn’t wear armour! There’s a bit of spin doctoring for you!

    1. Francis, what a fabulous comment: it makes me want to re-publish the post just so that others can see it. Thank you so much. I’d love to read that account of the King’s ‘glorious return.’

  9. K
    If you’re really interested and can bear a wodge of detail, you might look up “Chute Family Home Page” via Google and scroll down to my screed on Philip. Also Philip had married the sister of one Thomas Culpeper, a handsome courtier who repeatedly had it off with Queen Catherine Howard under Henry’s nose: Tom was duly hanged and the Queen beheaded, Henry being furious at his humiliation. So Philip was socially on perilous ground even before the Boulogne expedition.
    .As to the king’s glorious return in 1544, somebody wrote a pop song praising the king and including the words:
    “He hath gotten already Bullen that godly town
    “And biddeth sing speedily up, up and not down…”
    Wouldn’t make the Top Ten. The bigger problem wais that Henry had amassed 31,000 soldiers, at colossal expense, aiming to conquer all France, but found it took 3 months to capture the one castle of Boulogne. So he returned home that autumn, set his spin doctors to work, and had to devalue the currency and sell most of the royal properties he had recently taken from the Church, to try and balance the books. The expedition was ultimately futile because England could not afford the continued expense of holding Boulogne against the encircling French. And when the French sent a revenge expedition the next year, we lost the “Mary Rose” which capsized at Portsmouth, and we would have been invaded if the Isle of Wight militia had not fought like tigers and the French fleet had not suffered a sudden epidemic and gone back home!
    Just in case you were interested!! Francis

    1. I acquired a large silver plate antique serving tray with the armored fist and broken sword. I wondered if some organization used it for a symbol or if it is a family thing. Fascinating history ~ so glad I found it ! Cheryl

      1. I was surprised That Francis Chute had not mentioned about the royal lion in the left hand corner of Philip Chute coat of arms.

        The crest of the Chutes is the broken sword and it is mentioned as the crest of the Chutes in Burkes Armorial from earl times befoer Philip

  10. Dear Gordon,
    You are quite right that the canton with the lion of England over the Tudor colours was the prestigious public award which the king granted to Philip. All I was writing in this column was a brief answer to Kate’s notes up to Jan 14th.
    In my 50-page biog of Philip I make the point that the College of Arms have no record of any Chute armorial before a mid-16thC Visitation, so that the claim in Hasted’s History of Kent (18thC) that the canton was an augmentation to the family’s “auncient” armorial is unsupportable. Burke’s (1820+) were merely accepting as true the legendary Bethersden Chute Heraldic Roll which traces the armorial back to a putative 13thC Alexander Chute of Taunton; Burke’s have normally swallowed whole each family’s version of its ancestry.
    Alas I have shown that that Heraldic Roll (original now in Hampshire County Record Office, Winchester) is chock-full of errors, having been compiled around 1695 by a later Chute, newly-baronetted, who wanted to display an ancient lineage when he entered Parliament; he employed many short cuts in reconstructing his supposed ancestry. ( I didn’t enjoy demolishing a longstanding family legend, but one has to be objective when so much documentary evidence is pouring out of Internet. You won’t find any Chute in Taunton records before 1496, and then only the names of small-farmer Chutes fined for supporting the Young Pretender Perkin Warbeck!)
    I deduce that the underlying armorial of 3-swords barwise etc. with canton superimposed, and the crest of a mailed fist grasping a broken dagger, all date from after 1544. Whether the basic armorial had to be gazetted first, so that the canton could be added, is not on record. Also, whether the breakage of the dagger was code for actual military engagement, or carried a further implication that Philip felt aggrieved at e.g. not being knighted despite saving Henry’s life, is up for guesswork !

      1. Hi Francis and Kate.

        I write from Australia as a member of the Chute family desperately trying to piece together my family heritage. all i know so far is that my direct lineage goes back 6 generations to Tralee Ireland. Do i have any connection to Philip Chute?

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