Henry VII: The Man Behind the Legend

Henry VII portrait

Henry Tudor was still young when he became King of England. His reign heralded a new era for the British Isles, including their troublesome neighbor to the North. While he loved to gamble, drink (moderately), and joke, he was a cautious man -something his granddaughter and last monarch of his dynasty, Elizabeth I, inherited.

This is due to his difficult upbringing. He became fatherless before he as born with his mother giving birth to him at the tender age of thirteen -something that wasn’t completely unusual, but advised against when a woman was not fully developed and her husband was older than her- leaving her unable to have any more children. He was quickly christened and handed over to his uncle. His mother visited him as often she could or was allowed to by her new male guardian, her second husband, Henry Stafford.

By the time that Edward IV became King, Henry became a ward of the notable Herbert family. The Herberts were up and comers in the English court with noble Welsh roots like the Tudors, but unlike them they happened to back a winning horse. In his biography of Henry VII, S.B. Chrimes, notes that it is highly possible that the new Earl of Pembroke (a title that once belonged to Henry’s uncle, Jasper Tudor) planned to marry him to his daughter and heiress.

Novelist Barbara Kyle wrote a brilliant article on this topic and how lucrative the wardship business was. What we would denounce as a sex crime or kidnapping or stepping over a parents’ rights, it was non-existent back then. It was very common for men to marry their female wards, especially if they were orphans and rich heiresses. Such was the case for men as well. Henry became a ward of William Herbert and his wife Anne, after the start of the Yorkist regime.

Henry’s time with the Herberts was idyllic but after Lord William was executed during the fiasco of Warwick’s rebellion, Henry temporarily went to his mother. Things seemed fine for the two when the dullard king, Henry VI, was reinstated as king of England in a period known as the “Lancastrian Readeption.” Unfortunately, this did not last and I say unfortunately because while many soon realized that the king was beyond redemption and had become a shadow of his former self, for the Beauforts and Tudors, including Henry, this was a major setback.

The first time that Edward IV had become king, he had presented himself as a noble, just and merciful leader but the time for pleasantries was over. He was done giving second chances. Following Warwick’s defeat at the battle of Barnet and the Henry VI’s son and his wife’s army at the battle of Tewkesbury, the Lancastrian royal and male Beaufort lines were wiped out.

All seemed well except for one thing … There was one young boy who could still posed a threat to the Yorkis regime. If left alive, he could grow up to become a figurehead, rallying men to his cause to usurp Edward or his descendants’ throne in the same manner as Edward and their ancestor, the first Norman king, William the Conqueror, had done.

Edward IV acted immediately and sent armies to get Jasper and Henry who had fled to Wales. They managed to hold them off for two months. But eventually Jasper realized that they wouldn’t for much longer. He and his nephew headed to France but powerful winds threw them off course, with them landing on Brittany instead.

The Duke of Brittany became Henry’s mentor and ironically, his protector. Initially, Francis II did not have Henry’s best interests at heart, he saw him and his uncle as two piggy banks he could cash in, demanding Edward IV grant him special favors or pay handsomely so he could have his prized possessions back. But time has a way of changing people and perhaps it was Henry’s character, something he saw in the boy, that made the Duke change his mind.

It’s too bad that wasn’t passed unto his courtiers. Intrigued by the youth’s clever wit and will to survive, they had to think about their duchy first. If Edward IV looked to France, then that could mean two powerful kingdoms against them and the last thing that Brittany wanted was to lose what was left of their sovereignty. Francis II’s advisers convinced him to hand him over.

It all seemed too easy. A young man about to be handed over to the Yorkist king who’d lock him up, place him under house arrest or marry him to a family deeply loyal to him, successfully neutralizing the last Lancastrian threat. But since when do things go according plan?

They didn’t factor in Henry’s acting skills or his quick thinking. As Henry was being led away from the Breton court, he probably pondered on these possibilities and before they made him board their ship, he feigned sickness and as quick as their backs were turned, he ran off to the nearest church and claimed sanctuary.

Henry lived to fight another day. This experience shaped Henry into the king he’d later become -a ruler who was suspicious of even his own shadow and left nothing to chance.

Henry Tudor TWQ.jpg

In her biography of the Tudors and Stewarts (Tudors vs Stewarts), Linda Porter says the following of the young man who had returned to England to claim the English throne after fourteen years of exile:

“At twenty-eight Henry Tudor was no longer a pretty land. In looks he was still personable, but an itinerant and uncertain youth had shaped a cautious personality. He was not a man who took anything for granted. The immense challenged of ruling the larger of the two realms that formed the island of Britain lay ahead of him. He had come by his crown in blood and battle.”

It is not hard to see why he had become this way, and why he looked more rugged than any youth.

Like him or hate him, Henry VII’s reign was a major game changer for the modern world. Prior to his reign, nobles could still muster armies at will, with kings struggling to keep control over them, leading to endless strife. Henry eliminated the last embers of a broken system that was also being abandoned in other parts of Europe. This system was feudalism and Henry recognized how useless it was becoming, and amending it would be like beating a dead horse.

Humanism the illustrated man

There was also a new religious revival that was being experienced throughout Europe that put man at the center of everything. While Henry was not an enthusiast of this current like his contemporaries, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella I of Castile, and his successors were (especially his son and granddaughters), he recognized that the times were changing and that if he was going to have a successful reign, England had to keep up.

He and his mother encouraged many religious thinkers, and after hearing of many sea-faring voyages that promised new discoveries, he founded some of them. This naval exploration would experience a revival during his granddaughter, Elizabeth I’s reign, who sponsored many of these voyages to compete and out-rival her Catholic enemies.

henry-vii-sovereign-spink_410

The sovereign had never been at the center of everything as when the Tudors became the new ruling House. This goes hand in hand with the new current of man being placed at the center of everything. Man is divine, man is the conduit between heaven and earth, and likewise, the king is more sacred than his subjects. Coins from his reign, show Henry, seated in the throne, holding the orb and scepter, wearing the crown of the confessor. He was the first English King to do this.

Tudor chronicler, Polydore Vergil, wrote the following of the first Tudor monarch in his mammoth work ‘Anglia Historia‘, a series of books chronicling the history of England:

“His body was slender but well built and strong; his height above the average. His appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking; his eyes were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair was thin and white; his complexion sallow. His spirit was distinguished, wise and prudent; his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at moments of the greatest danger, deserted him. He had a most pertinacious memory. Withal he was not devoid of scholarship. In government he was shrewd and prudent, so that no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile. He was gracious and kind and was as attentive to his visitors as he was easy of access. His hospitality was splendidly generous; he was fond of having foreigners at his court and he freely conferred favours of them. But those of his subjects who were indebted to him and who did not pay him due honour or who were generous only with promises, he treated with harsh severity. He well knew how to maintain his royal majesty and all which appertains to kingship at every time and in every place. He was most fortunate in war, although he was constitutionally more inclined to peace than to war. He cherished justice above all things; as a result he vigorously punished violence, manslaughter and every other kind of wickedness whatsoever. Consequently he was greatly regretted on that account by all his subjects, who had been able to conduct their lives peaceably, far removed from the assaults and evil doing of scoundrels. He was the most ardent supporter of our faith, and daily participated with great piety in religious services. To those whom he considered to be worthy priests, he often secretly gave alms so that they should pray for his salvation. He was particularly fond of those Franciscan friars whom they call Observants, for whom he founded many convents, so that with his help their rule should continually flourish in his kingdom, but all these virtues were obscured latterly only by avarice, from which…he suffered. This avarice is surely a bad enough vice in a private individual, whom it forever torments; in a monarch indeed it may be considered the worst vice, since it is harmful to everyone, and distorts those qualities of trustfulness, justice and integrity by which the state must be governed.”

It would be good to end this on a happy note but Henry’s life as his early struggles was anything but happy or peaceful. He faced many rebellions, dealt with one impostor and a pretender, and other personal struggles that worn him down, including the loss of his uncle, eldest son, wife and newborn daughter.

Almost everyone who had joined Henry in exile and marched with him to Bosworth, had died. The man who became like a father to him, his paternal uncle, died before the century was over. And then he lost his son, a young, handsome boy whom he had named after the mythical Welsh (and Anglicized) king who united all of the British Isles to fight the Saxon army, King Arthur. He represented his vision for the future, a future where the Tudor dynasty reigned supreme. When he lost Henry, his vision died with him.

Bernard Andre commented that the King was absolutely distraught. He and Elizabeth took comfort in each other’s presence, with his wife assuring him that they were still young and could still have more children. And while this is true, Elizabeth was young, the birth of her new daughter was too much for her. She died on her thirty seventh birthday with her newborn, princess Katherine, dying a day letter.

Henry was outlived by his daughters, Queen Margaret who had married James IV of Scotland in the North and whose descendants would rule England (and continue to rule England) after the death of the last Tudor monarch, his youngest, Princess Mary (whose descendants would be beset by tragedy), and his only surviving son, Henry VIII and of course, the woman who had always worked hard to ensure his survival, even from afar, his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

His reign is also a transitory period, representing the end of an era and a dawn of a new one, that space between the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the modern world.

Henry was buried at the lady Chapel next to his wife, Elizabeth of York. Their two effigies are a testament of their undying love, and his personal sacrifices.

Sources:

  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Barbara Kyle’s ‘For Sale: Rich Orphans’
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Dead Men tell no Tales: The black legend of Henry VIII

It is easy to see why people have a hard time differentiating from the jolly old monarch, bluff king Hal/good king Hall, or the murderous, lecherous psychopath that came centuries later, to the real Henry VIII, who was as complex as everyone else during this era.
I have been guilty of viewing him through a twenty first century lens.
This is not going to be some excuse-making post about him, Henry VIII did a lot of things that were atrocious but when you want to have a serious discussion about him, you have to look at his reign in the proper context and the proper context is looking at it from a 16th century standpoint.
Henry VIII was no saint but neither was he a mustache-twirling villain, what he was, was a Humanist Prince whom everyone started to adore, ignoring the people he executed because they happened to be people they hated (Empson and Dudley) until one day he overstepped his boundaries, broke away from the church, threatened the livelihood of farmers and traders who relied on the monastic system that people went ‘okay this is going too far.’ The fat that he also wanted to annul his marriage to his wife of many years who was beloved by the English people, also played a part in people rising up against him. But even as they rebelled, they always made sure to point out that it wasn’t against him directly but their ministers.

The Forgotten Monarch:

Henry VIII young and old
Henry VIII as a young man (left) and later in his reign (right).

It is easy to see why Henry VIII is seen as a villain. From a twenty-first century standpoint he does seem amoral, but we forget that the past is a different country and the Tudor era can’t easily be divided into good and evil. History is not a morality tale and if we want to have a serious discussion about the infamous monarch, we have to get to the heart of the story and see how the black legend of lecherous, murdering bluff king hall came to be.

 In the following paragraph from The Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser says the following about Henry regarding the judicial arrest and later murder of Anne Boleyn:

“It is true that the workings of the King’s conscience followed the dictates of his heart amazingly conveniently. But this did not mean that he did not have a conscience. On the contrary, it was a likely and important part of his nature. The coincidence between passion and conscience was more apparent to outsiders than it was to him, a useful capacity for her self deception being another of his attributes … This is not to absolve Henry VIII of guilt concerning his second wife’s destruction, let alone the deaths of the innocent courtiers, some of them his close friends. On a rational level, the sovereign who agreed on 24 April to sign the commission of investigation into unknown treasonable conspiracies must have had a fair idea of what was going on. And even if that signing could be regarded as a purely routine administrative matter, the King went on a few days later to sign the documents necessary for summoning parliament … It is merely to observe that Henry VIII found it easy enough to absolve himself.”

Fraser and several other historians have pointed out, Henry wasn’t a dastardly being.

Deep down, to quote historian Robert Hutchinson, “he believed that what he wanted was what God wanted.” And it will be easy to point out his hypocrisy, but before doing that, his religiosity must be addressed.

“Most people have seen the famous painting of the bloated, middle-aged King, standing with his fists anchored pugnaciously to his hips, wearing sumptuous cloths covered in embroidery and jewels. The force of his personality can still be felt, even more a two-dimensional depiction in oil … His appearance thoroughly matches his reputation as a brutal thug who murdered women when he tired of them … Henry is popularly remembered as a fat, covetous, and womanizing lout, but this image is less than half the story.  The aged King, with his cruel disdain for others and his harsh authoritarianism, is very different from his younger self.  When Henry ascended to the throne, he strove to bring harmony and chivalry to his court; he was not to contentious and brutal man he was to become …  As a young man, Henry was a handsome, genial, and a rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty. His hair was red, he had very fair skin, and his face was as lovely as that of “a pretty woman” (Scarisbrick, 1970:13) … In addition to his physical accomplishments, the King had a brilliant mind. Henry’s intellect impressed many of the most famous thinkers of his day.”

In her book, Blood Will Tell, medical historian Kyra Cornelius Kramer illustrates Henry’s youth and background before she talks about the possible illnesses that affected him.
She also spends a good deal dispelling myths surrounding Henry, starting with the notion that he was a lecher whose mood changes were the result of venereal diseases from countless sex partners.

“Had it been suspected that Henry had syphilis, word of his condition would doubtlessly have circulated in European courts. The fact that he was the English monarch would not have stopped the doctors from reporting his disease, any more than it stopped royal physicians from making the King of France’s condition common knowledge.”

In her book, Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, women’s historian Amy Licence, contests this notion, saying that there might be a bit of truth in legends, although she also maintains that in comparison to other kings, Henry was far more discreet and a prude.

Young Henry: The Man that Time Forgot

Henry VIII young
Henry VIII by the Venetian Ambassador who was impressed with the young King’s physique and pursuit of knowledge: “The handsomest potentate Ii ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with n extremely fine call to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful, that it would become a pretty woman.”

Henry VIII grew up in a strict environment. It was all fun and games until his brother died and his father, worrying about his last remaining male heir, was forced to do some adjustments to his schooling and outdoor activities. Basically, he wasn’t allowed to go out much. His father enjoyed playing cards, joking with friends when he was abroad and watching jousting tournaments. Naturally, his son wanted to do all that and more but his father didn’t let him. Henry was allowed to have friends but he wasn’t allowed to engage in any sort of sports that might hurt him.
In the twelfth century, Louis VI of the Capetian Dynasty, aka Louis “the Fat”, of France lost his eldest son due to horse riding. And jousting was far more dangerous, especially for a young boy, so that was out of the question.

Courtiers thought that Henry would grow up to be someone they could easily control but he surprised them when he told them he’d choose his bride, concocting a sentimental lie how it was what his father asked of him before he died. Rescuing Katharine of Aragon from near penury, Henry VIII saw himself as Sir Lancelot to her Guinevere. At times the two engaged in elaborate masques where they would each play different roles, with Katharine as the damsel in distress and Henry as her knight in shining armor. In her documentary series, the Secrets of the Six Wives (Six Wives in the UK), Lucy Worsley spent the first half hour of the first episode showing how deeply in love Henry and Katharine were and that they were equal in looks, stubbornness, and their educational backgrounds.

I am not going to spend to be discussing Katharine’s background, I have done that already in other posts which I’ve linked down below. I will say that when it comes to Henry, his background is often ignored to the point that all people can think of -when they think of Henry- is this disgusting gluttonous lecherous idiot. That was not always the case and this perception is a perfect example of how the shifting religious landscape affected people’s views on a man who was once hailed by the Venetian ambassador as the true embodiment of Humanist principle.

The origins of the Black Legend & the truth about his childhood

In his biography on Henry VIII, the late David Loades had this to say on the Good King Hal:

Pro … defensione was the first round in the creation of that ‘black legend’ of Henry VIII which thereafter dominated all those records of English events which emanated either from Catholic Europe or from the English Catholic community. One of the most vitriolic was Nicholas Sander’s De origine ac progressu schismaticis Anglicani published at Cologne in 1585, which attributed Henry’s actions in the 1530s entirely to unbridled lust, both for Anne Boleyn and also for the wealth of the Church. This was a line also taken by Robert Parsons in his treatise of three conversions … which was issued at St Omer in 1603. Modern historians in the Catholic tradition have been far more judicious, not only because polemic no longer serves a useful purpose, but because the debate has broadened to embrace the King’s whole style of government. Cardinal Gasquet in 1888, while not abandoning the lust and greed interpretation, was more concerned to set the events in context and to admit that there might have been some justification for the King’s extreme reactions. In the twentieth century Philip Hughes, while pointing out that Henry had a tendency to alter the law to suit his own convenience, also proposed that there was much amiss with the late medieval Church, and particularly the monasteries, which invited the King’s intervention. This concession has been repudiated by more recent scholars, notably Jack Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy, who have argued that the Church was in rude health and that Henry’s success was primarily the result of his exercise of crude force. It was by executing dissenters on both sides of the confessional divide that the King enforced his will, using fear and intimidation as his principal weapons. Meanwhile, for historians of a Protestant persuasion the reformation was a change waiting to happen. Without denying the importance of the King’s actions, they proposed a model of a Church corrupted from within by superstition and idolatry, a tottering edifice awaiting a decisive push. Unfortunately Henry’s push had been anything but decisive, as they admitted.
John Foxe, standing at the head of his tradition, was frankly puzzled by Henry, who seemed to blow both hot and cold on the reformers -often at the same time.”

David Loades’ assessment on the second Tudor monarch, is probably the fairest.

EOY and Henry VIII signatures
“Henry’s handwriting has always been a bit of a mystery. The ‘Y’s with that little back loop. The ‘R’s look much like ‘z’ in modern handwriting and the ‘H’s are quite unlike the handwriting of Henry’s known teachers. On the other hand, it is rather like this.’ David Starkey motions to show a book listing other primary sources that contains a letter written by none other than Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York. ‘And this is one of the very few surviving specimens of the handwriting of Henry’s mother. ‘This book is mine. Elizabeth, the King’s daughter.’ It says. It is only eight words and thirty-nine letters. And yet it is characteristic enough in weight, rhythm and letter forms to prove conclusive (I think) that Elizabeth herself was the first teacher of her daughters and her second son, Henry. It’s a charming picture, Henry the little prince and a loving family.” He described this as unusual “for sixteenth century monarchs.” And it certainly is but I think that has to do with the simple fact that he was the second son, the “spare”. Given that Arthur was destined to be King and going to receive a top-notch education, Elizabeth of York probably felt her other children, including Henry, could be more carefree. It must have felt terrible for the young boy when he lost his mother and his father (with good reason) became paranoid. Henry VII felt he had to protect him at all cost and until his father died, there was little indication of what Henry wanted. What Henry VII said, his son did. When he became King, he realized the enormous power that he had and how quickly he could win the people over by showing them that he was the opposite of his father. Like his mother, he was amicable, surrounding himself with people of low and high stature. And like his maternal grandfather, he was eager to be loved.

In his documentary on Henry VIII, as well as in his biography on him, David Starkey stated that Henry had a deep connection with his mother. To prove his point, he showed viewers to copies, one of his mother and the other of Henry. The handwriting is similar and given that he was the spare, it makes sense why he and Elizabeth became close. Further proof of this lies in Henry’s words. He said to one of his colleagues that his mother’s death was one of the hardest moments of his life, and something he had never gotten over with.

But Henry’s idyllic childhood didn’t last. As previously stated, it ended when his brother died and his father became overprotective of him. In her recent biography on the Tudors, The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman says that Henry VIII’s descent into madness can be traced back to his childhood. By the time he became King, he had grown into a “highly strung, impulsive and vain young man with a terrifying and unpredictable temper. Those who served him would soon learn how swiftly his favour could be lost.” She is referring to Empson and Dudley, his father’s dreaded tax-collectors whom he put in prison as soon as he came to the throne and less than a year later, had them executed. Some historians take this as proof that Henry was bloodthirsty from the beginning and people only turned against him when he attacked their privilege and their beloved church.

Henry VIII: The Politician & Trying to Solve the Puzzle

Henry VIII full body red and grey classic portrait
An older Henry VIII at the end of his reign. By this time, he had become obese, the ulcer in his leg had worsened and it is possible he was suffering from other illnesses. His over-eating and desire for glory, as well as his position as head of his church, wishing to secure his legacy, didn’t help. Yet, aware of the power of words and images, he made sure that he’d become immortal through them, especially with the latter. His pose is perfect and can be seen in other paintings where his expansive clothes help cover up his weight and give the impression that he is all-powerful. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Certainly, Henry VIII was a good masker, but what monarch wasn’t a good liar. In his infamous book, The Prince, Machiavelli posed the question if it is better for a prince to be loved or feared. Machiavelli, like Henry VIII, gets taken out of context. He didn’t favor the monarchy and his other text on a Republican government better illustrates where he stood politically. Nevertheless, eager to win back the favor his masters, The Prince was a step-by-step manual on how to be an effective ruler. Machiavelli held that it was better for a monarch to be feared -since a good ruler had to be aware that he could never please everyone. But relying on fear alone, just as on love, didn’t work because eventually the people would rise up in anger and everything the ruler built -whether good or bad- could go down the drain. Therefore, he added another element to the equation: respect. Winning the people over was a good technique and for that a ruler had to be affable and seen as just -even when he wasn’t.
Henry was good at this.  And not just because he was an evil mastermind who relished in people’s suffering but because he truly believed that what he was doing, was in everyone’s best interest.

Call it delusion, or self-con, but that is how Henry’s mind worked -and how most monarchs’ minds worked, especially the ones the ones that are widely revered.

Of course, as Henry VIII’s behavior became erratic as he got older. If Kyra’s theory that he suffered from Kell Blood Positive syndrome, as well as Suzannah Lipscomb in her book, 1536, where she said that the fall from his joust in that year caused him head trauma that altered his personality, are true then this along with his leg ulcer, and his urgency to father another male heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty, can explain this.

Even though victors get to rewrite history -and Henry did rewrite many things about his reign- sometimes writers decide that the truth is not interesting enough and they spice things up. This is what has happened to Henry. Amidst the myths and legends, the real one gets pushed into the background in favor of a caricature.
It is true, dead men tell no tales, but facts do and even when firsthand accounts are bias, they paint a clearer picture of who this man was and what fueled his actions. While the puzzle will never be solve, the deeper we dig, the closer we come to discovering who the real Henry VIII was.

Sources:

  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of England’s Greatest Dynasty. Hodder & Stoughton. 2016.
  • Kramer, Kyra Cornelius. Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII. Ash Wood Press. 2012.
  • Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
  • Loades, David. Henry VIII. 2011.
  • “Divorced.” Six Wives with Lucy Worsley, written by Chloe Moss, directed by Russell England, BBC, 2016.
  • Katharine of Aragon’s education
  • Katherine and Henry VIII’s marriage & their joint coronation

 

Margaery Tyrell and Highgarden: Two sides of the same historical coin

 

Anne COA Highgarden

In the spring of 1536, Charles Brandon and other courtiers visited Anne’s chambers to tell her the news that they had arrested her brother and a handful of other guys, and they were going to take her to the Tower of London. Just three years before, she had lodged in the Tower to await her coronation. Henry VIII chose to crown her with St Edward the Confessor’s crown which was reserved for Kings. It was Anne’s greatest triumph, and it would have remain that way if she had given what Henry wanted (and needed) the most: A son.

The Tudor Dynasty was fairly new and England wasn’t used to the idea of women rulers so the thought of leaving the throne to little Princess Elizabeth after Henry had gone through great trouble to divorce his first wife for the same reason, would’ve been ludicrous. Anne was accused of incest and adultery and high treason and she lost her head on May 19th of that year.

margaeryjpg-a8eaec5b283c8c8b

In the show, Margaery (who coincidentally played Anne in ‘The Tudors’) is arrested after the High Septon (who’s like the pope in this world) accuses her f perjury, lying under oath which is a great sin since you swear to testify the truth and the whole truth under the gods. The equivalent to today’s ‘you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, so help you God?’

In medieval times this was a great deal. And Game of Thrones is a show that prides itself to take inspiration from the middle ages, specifically from the wars of the roses and the Tudor periods.

Margaery’s arrest therefore must be seen within this religious context. However, Cersei was also responsible for her arrest because she knew how much the HIgh Septon hated Margaery, and her family because her family are traditional followers of the Seven and they hate everything that has to do with religious reformation.

Anne Boleyn arrest

This is a great departure from Anne Boleyn. Though she was described as “more Lutheran than Luther herself”, Anne was not a staunch Reformist, and neither was she a martyr for her cause. She favored a lot of Reformist authors and teachings, but it was her father and her brother who believed more in the cause than she did.

During her short tenure as Queen, she did a lot of good charitable works. One of the reasons why she and Cromwell hated each other was because Cromwell couldn’t afford to say ‘no’ to the king given his position, and also wanted to enrich him, while Anne believed that the money taken from the monasteries and other religious houses should be distributed among the people -to build hospitals, centers of education, and to the new churches that would make people more invested on the new church.

COA and Margaery

Margaery like so many of Martin’s characters is based on more than one person, and perhaps it is the author’s way of being ironic and sarcastic that he often mixes two or more characters who were rivals in real life to create unique characters..

Margaery’s family is a perfect example of that.
Highgarden is located on the Reach where there are constant border raids from their neighboring Dorne. This should sound family to history buffs, especially Spanish history aficionados who’ve read on the subject.

Spain at the time of Catherine of Aragon’s birth, was divided into three kingdoms, and though the two Catholic crowns were united thanks to her parents’ union, the third crown which represented the Taifa kingdom of Granada, remained separate. Granada was the last of the once great Taifa kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula. And there were many border raids between the two peoples. They both believed in God but had different religions, and they borrowed from each other’s cultures (though they were hesitant to admit it).

Secondly, the two neighboring realms hated each other. Isabel never felt bad about lying under oath, and neither did her husband. They pretended to be on Boabdil’s side more than one time, and played both sides against one another, so it made taking their realm an easier enterprise. They finally achieved it on the 2nd of January 1492. She and Fernando stood in front of Boabdil, outside the gates of Granada. The King approached Fernando first and gave them the keys to the city then paid his respects to Isabel.

Isabel y su esposo

Isabel was a ruthless politician -not unlike the Queen of Thorns- and always dressed lavishly, while giving a lot of money to the church and keeping her clerics under a tight leash, raised her children well. Her husband was a skilled warrior who helped her maintain stability in her kingdom, and fight off her niece whom she always maintained wasn’t her brother’s real daughter; and he was also a cunning politician.

Catherine learned well from their example and from a young age she learned everything from the great literary works of the ancient world, to civic and canon law, dance, art, poetry, and most of all, her future role, not only as future Queen of England, but as a politician.

Catherine’s years after Prince Arthur died were anything but easy and her father was embroiled in a battle to control Castile and wrestle it from her sister and her husband. David Loades tells us how he wanted to send her money but couldn’t so instead he made her his ambassador. She was the first female ambassador to England and this increased her status but not as much as she hoped for, so she continued fighting and did what she could to get the next in line to the throne, Prince Henry Tudor of Wales’ attention.

When Henry VII died, his son did something unexpected (but not unprecedented) and chose to follow his heart instead of listening to the council. Fancying himself a knight in shining armor, he married his sweet sister in law and the two were crowned on the same day in June 24th 1509.

Highgarden and Castilla

The books, including the World of Ice and Fire, make it clear just how traditional Margaery’s family is. And there have been a lot of inaccurate and crazy blogs that say that Catherine’s equivalent in the show is likely someone like Selyse or another religious fanatic. But let’s stop and think for a second: If we consider Anne super religious while also being a fashion icon, why can’t we think the same for Catherine? Or are we just too lazy to do research and prefer to believe what someone else tells us or what has become the norm after centuries of story-telling that have become the new history?

England and Castile and Aragon were highly religious yet they enjoyed many past-times. Castile was one of the richest courts in Western Europe, and Isabel loved everything that had to do with fashion, music and art, and she was passionate about her children learning about the latest educational trends such as Humanism and reading classical books.

She was referred by some as sweet, and by others said that she could also be cross.

Catherine had an idyllic childhood, much like the actress Natalie Dormer has said of her character in Game of Thrones.

The two also introduced fashions in their adoptive countries or realms. They loved gossip (Catherine’s mother especially) and they had fierce maternal relatives who never held their tongue. Isabel made sure her children dressed the best, were more educated tha other European princes. There was always music and dancing wherever they went. They also loved to watch plays while they celebrated, and they always surrounded themselves by bright colors. Not just in their clothing but in paintings that Isabel had commissioned for her family where they vibrantly appeared as saints or being blessed by God and the Holy Mother. And they were not afraid to speak against their religious leaders.

Catherine of Aragon wrote a strong letter in December 1531, subtly urging the pope to rule in her favor. And I say subtly because Catherine of Aragon was good at making threats that didn’t seem like threats but more like passive-aggressive rhetoric, the kind you get from a skilled politicians. Margaery does the same thing. When she is smiling, she isn’t really smiling. She is surviving by playing the game of thrones better than her opponents, bearing the same perseverance that Catherine did for seven years.

It should come as no surprise that Catherine’s first motto was ‘Not for my Crown’ and that her second ‘Humble and Loyal’ (which resembled her late mother in law’s) reflected her great understanding of politics. She could appear docile and sweet on the outside, but was a strong and skillful politician like her parents.

Anne Boleyn arrest 1

On the manner of Margaery’s arrest though, the Anne Boleyn persona takes over, especially when you take into account what happens in the book. In the book, Cersei firmly believes that her daughter in law is cheating, and that while her second marriage to her eldest son (Joffrey) wasn’t consummated, the first might have been. Like Catherine, it is a question that will likely haunt Margaery for ages (or less given than everyone dies far sooner in GOT). But instead of annulling her marriage, she wants to humiliate her and her family since she believes Margaery is the young, beautiful queen from the prophecy who will take everything from her.By book 5, is pretty clear that Cersei doesn’t really believe in all the charges, but she is so consumed by rage (after she too has been imprisoned) that she doesn’t care anymore. Margaery is accused of sleeping with her servants and her brother. Like Anne, she isn’t given the benefit of the doubt by the highest authority, which is her mother-in-law, and she seems doomed.

Like both Queens, Margaery’s mistake is not in being of one side or the other, but being politically active, and better at the game than her rival, and not giving the crown what it needs: an heir and complete obedience. The Baratheon dynasty is new and nobody really believes that Cersei’s bastard children are Robert’s, but they are in power and most of their enemies have died, so that doesn’t matter. Nonetheless, they need a male heir to continue the line. Margaery hasn’t delivered because she is way older than Tommen in the books who’s just a kid, and in the show although the two have consummated their marriage, there is no sign of her getting pregnant. And she isn’t one to bow down to Cersei. She is good at playing docile, but she is even better at convincing others to take her side and subtly get rid of Cersei -something the Queen Mother couldn’t forgive and now Margaery is paying the consequences

We will have to see what awaits her. And what awaits Highgarden. If Margaery and Loras die, they will have Willas to take over when their father dies as well, but in the show, it looks as if Highgarden’s golden age is about to end. Could it be a parallel to Spain or to the Trastamara dynasty? After the Catholic Kings lost their precious jewel, Don Juan, Prince of Asturias, they had no other choice but name their daughter Princess of Asturias and after she and her baby died, their second daughter, Dona Juana, Duchess of Burgundy whose strong temperament made them nervous, and whose reckless husband, made things worse.

Sources:

  • Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six  Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • World of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin,  Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’ by Eric Ives
  • The Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton

The Youngest Spanish Princess is born at Alcala de Henares

Isabel I bebe Catalina

A Very Happy Birthday to Henry VIII’s first Queen Consort, Catherine of Aragon who was born on the 15th of December 1485, in Alcala de Henares, Spain. The Palace was located over twenty miles to the North of Madrid and the local seat of the archbishop of Toledo. It dated all the way back to the thirteenth century and it was likely *“decorated in the Mudejar style of elegant white filigree carving, tile work and ornamental metals set around gracious courtyards.” It must’ve been a sight to behold in its time.

She was the youngest daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. The two had made Spain one of the greatest kingdoms in Western Europe and received their titles years later after their achievements during the Reconquista and the expulsion of the Jews and Moors who refused to convert to Christianity.

Catherine was named after her ancestress, her great-grandmother, the daughter of the first Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt and St. Catherine who was an intellectual, defender of the Christian faith and Princess. Like the latter, Catherine was one of the most educated women of her time. Her mother didn’t learn Latin until she was an adult. Although she received an education expected of highborn women, she could not speak Latin fluently, something she regretted and didn’t want her daughters to experience. Ferdinand was a warrior born and bred and like his wife, he wanted their children to receive the best of the best.

KOA and her mom Isabella

 

Cunning, conniving and ambitious, Catherine took after them. Physically though, she took after her mother. She had a nearly round, heart-shaped face, auburn hair, blue eyes and fair skin. When she arrived in England and met her father-in-law-to-be, King Henry VII weeks later, he was pleased with what he saw. She was everything they expected in their future Queen. When she married her second husband, Henry VIII, the two were jointly crowned in June of 1509.

Catherine was a patroness of education and widely praised by many scholars including Juan Luis Vives who wrote a long dedication to her and Sir Thomas More who said she was an example for all women. She was also a fashion icon in her day introducing the farthingale or vertugado which was a hooped, bell-shaped skirt into England.

KOA and Henry VIII signatures

Out of all Henry’s marriages, his marriage to Catherine was the longest, with him naming her his Regent in 1513 (the only other of Henry’s wives to be named Regent was Katherine Parr who was likely named after her) while he was away fighting in France in what became known as the battle of Spurs. Under her leadership the English won of the most significant battles against Scots and gave death to their king, James IV of Scotland who was her brother-in-law through his marriage to Henry’s eldest sister, Margaret Tudor.
Although Parliament and the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared their marriage null and void in May of 1533 (just one month before Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England) to many Catholics she remained their Queens of Heart. She died less than three years later on the first week of January of 1536. She was given the full honors of a Princess Dowager and buried on St Peterborough.

Sources:

  • Isabella: Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence*
  • Catherine of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

Henry VIII & Katherine of Aragon: The Rose and the Pomegranate’s Coronation

Henry VIII and KOA coronation

On Sunday June the 24th 1509, Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon were crowned jointly at Westminster Abbey. The procession began three day before when they took possession of the Tower. After seven long years of living in a political limbo, waiting in vain to marry the next in line to the throne, her dreams had finally come true. She and Henry had taken everyone by surprise with their marriage. The handsome boy who had accompanied her to the altar when she married his eldest brother Arthur seven years ago took after his maternal grandfather, Edward IV. Like him, he was determined to show everyone that he was his own man and that he would marry the woman of his choosing. Although he claimed that his father had made him promise to take his brother’s widow as his wife, not many believed this tale, yet they were all eager to please their new King who was a great contrast from his late father. When he and Katherine were married, the ceremony had been very low key; their coronation was however was beyond splendid. For Katherine, this must have all seemed remotely familiar. When she married Prince Arthur, she had been greeted with pageantry that lasted for days. This was no different. Henry wanted to spare no expense. The King, as one of his courtiers [Lord Mountjoy] said, was not after “gold, gems, or precious metals, but virtue, glory, and immortality.”

Westminster Hall where the royal couple processed to on the eve of their coronation.  After hosting a great dinner, the two retired to the Painted Chamber.
Westminster Hall where the royal couple processed to on the eve of their coronation. After hosting a great dinner, the two retired to the Painted Chamber.

Two days after Henry and Katherine took possession of the Tower of London, the city of London prepared to welcome their new king and queen-to-be. At about four o’clock the celebrations began with guildsmen lined in the streets. The Lord Mayor (Stephen Jennings, once a merchant) was among them, standing erect, wearing his golden chain of office while the other aldermen were close by alongside the guards who were in charge of crowd control. Henry and Katherine emerged from the Tower wearing resplendent gowns, each with their separate entourages. Henry beneath a canopy of cloth and state, wearing a crimson robe, golden coat studded with precious gems, mounted on a huge worse draped in golden fabric. Katherine followed him, riding in a litter borne by white horses, and wearing a beautiful white gown, similar to what she wore when she married Prince Arthur. Her hair was loose, as was the tradition of Consorts to symbolize their purity. Around her head was a golden and pearl circlet.

Among her retinue was none other than the newly knighted Thomas Boleyn. Henry VIII made it his duty to continue the tradition of creating new Knights of the Bath on the eve of their coronation. Besides him was the King’s best friend, the rakish Charles Brandon, the ambitious Duke of Buckingham who was dressed for the occasion, wearing gold and diamonds.

The two empty thrones were waiting for them in the Abbey where they would be crowned the following day. No doubt, they were eager to get it over with as a heavy rain poured down on them that Saturday. Many of their courtiers took shelter until the shower stopped. But Katherine –as her new husband- did not. They were born royals, and Katherine above all, trained to be Queen all her life. She had seen her mother ride through the camp, greeting soldiers, putting aside her servants’ discomfort as they saw her injured men. In Isabella, Katherine had learned that a Queen was Queen not just because of her lineage, but because of her bearing. And Katherine was ready to show that as her mother before her, she was going to take on her new role seriously. However, seeing her ladies’ discomfort and acknowledging that she could not let her litter be more ruined (her dress and hair were already ruined, Katherine like so many was drenched in rain water); she took refuge with them on a nearby tavern called the Cardinal’s Hat.
Despite Katherine’s greatest efforts; she could not avoid the superstitious ideas that were running through everyone’s mind. A rain on a day like this, on the eve of their coronation, on mid-summer’s day was seen as a bad omen. This was an age where omens were taken seriously, where superstition was seen as logic, and were the former were used as evidence of God’s anger or discontent.
The royal entourage managed to reach Westminster Palace where they dined with their guests before retiring to the Painted Chamber.

Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey.

The following morning was better than expected. The ceremonies were resumed and they were crowned at Westminster Abbey.  As the day before, the two were splendidly dressed and as with Henry’s father and namesake, his grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, wept. Only this time they were of relief and joy because her son’s dynasty –against all odds- had survived and now the new generation would be crowned.

“Westminster Abbey was a riot of color. Quite in contrast with the somber, bare-stone interiors of medieval churches today, these pre-Reformation years made worship a tactile and sensual experience, with wealth and ornament acting as tributes and measures of devotion. Inside the abbey, statues and images were gilded and decorated with jewels, walls and capitals were picked out in bright colors and walls were hung with rich arras. All was conducted according to the advice of the 200-year-old Liber Regalis, the Royal Book, which dictated coronation ritual. The couple were wafted with sweet incense while thousands of candles flickered, mingling with the light streaming down through the stained-glass windows.” (Licence)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Catholic Church in England, William Warham, conducted the ceremony. In a demonstration of precedence, Henry’s throne was raised higher than Katherine’s. “Like his father” Patrick Williams writes in his biography on Queen Katherine, “Henry VIII was crowned not just King of England but also King of France.” An ancestral title stretching all the way to Edward III who started the one hundred years war with the intention of winning more French territory. His descendant Henry V had conquered France with his son becoming the first English King of France. But he had also lost it. England had no French territory left except Calais, a small province that still served to remind England of its days of glory. Henry VIII would prove to be like many of his Lancastrian relatives, a man who ambitioned too big, but too soon.

Buckingham as Lord High Steward carried the Crown of St. Edward which was used to crown Henry, on his right, the Earls of Surrey and Arundel carried the scepter and the orb. After Warham made the traditional speech, reaffirming Henry as King of England and asking the people if they accepted their new king; he anointed Henry with the holy oils then placed the crown on his head. Then it was Katherine’s turn. Seated in her smaller throne, she was anointed on the breast and forehead, then given the scepter and rod, and finally had the crowd of St. Edith placed on her head.

After the Mass they went to St. Edward’s shrine behind the high altar to change their garments of state for more adequate clothing for the banquet that was waiting for them at Westminster Palace.

Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon from Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1971). In the middle is Katherine of Aragon's coronation robe.
Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon from Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1971). In the middle is Katherine of Aragon’s coronation robe.

There was no one in the realm that didn’t praise their new king and Queen. Besides Lord Mountjoy, Thomas More, who was young at the time, wrote extensively on the virtues of the new king and queen, adding a year later that “this lady, prince, vowed to you for many years, through a long time of waiting remained alone for love of you.” Days after their coronation, the King and Queen moved to Greenwich to enjoy a series of jousts that were made in their honor, seated in a wooden box with their royal devices, the rose and the pomegranate engraved there as well as the letters H and K intertwined.

Sources:

  • Katherine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

The Marriage of Henry VIII and Infanta Catalina: The Rose & the Pomegranate

KOA and Henry VIII 2

On June Eleventh 1509, Henry VIII married the Spanish Princess, Katherine of Aragon at the Friary Church at Greenwich. It was a modest ceremony. Katherine’s confessor wrote to her father that “His Highness loves her and she loves him”. Katherine of Aragon had been his brother’s widow. There was that issue of the papal dispensation which her mother had taken care of before her death, five years prior. But Isabella’s death split the country in two and Katherine was no longer a valuable asset. Henry VII made his son publicly repudiate his intended bride, yet Henry continued to be infatuated with her. Katherine always made sure she got to see him as much as she could so Henry’s interest in her would remain. People tend to forget how long the two waited to be married and furthermore, how long they were married.

Katherine of Aragon Magdalene

Nobody expected Katherine to become Queen. Henry had been kept from other people, except a select few. Henry VII wanted to make sure that his son would become the perfect Prince, one who would listen to his father and his advisers. Henry VIII however was determined to be his own man. David Loades said it himself, that Henry’s decision to marry Katherine echoes his maternal grandfather’s decision to marry an impoverished Lancastrian widow. As with the latter, Katherine did not have anything more to recommend her other than her name. Her credentials were impeccable (and she was also the first female Western European ambassador) but other than that, her country had been torn up by civil war, and she was no longer a bride who was considered desirable on that prospect. But more than that, Henry was determined to her. Like Edward IV, nobody was going to tell him what to do. The council wanted Henry to marry Katherine’s niece or someone else who would bring a larger dowry with her and who was younger, but Henry said no claiming that on his deathbed, his father made him swear that he would look after his late brother’s wife by marrying her.

HenryVIII_1509

In completely fairness, Henry was acting in the chivalric traditions where a knight rescues his fair maiden and protects her from all harm. His declaration does have some truth in that sense; but the part about his father making him promise to marry Katherine is unbelievable. It is true that Henry VII had grown into a very avaricious man towards the end of his reign; but much as he coveted Katherine’s dowry, he was more interested in his son marrying a bride who would bring more to the table.
The council didn’t believe his story either, but he was their King and they could do nothing to dissuade him.

Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon in the Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

When Katherine was told of the news, no doubt she felt a sense of fulfillment, because at last her seven long years of waiting to wear the crown of Edith, was becoming a reality. And there was also another aspect to their union: Henry was attracted to her, not just because she was beautiful, but because she was intelligent and because despite Spain being in a tough situation, his alliance with Ferdinand fed into his ambitious to conquer France. Ferdinand like Henry was no friend of the Valois and he encouraged his son in law (through Katherine) to join him against France.
During the first years of their marriage, Katherine was extremely influential. The two were crowned together, and Katherine would oversee many things and as Queen she had her own household and she proved to be an excellent administrator, and also a great leader. When her husband left to aid her father in the war against France, she was left in charge of his realm. Under her Regency, the Scots were defeated and their king, James IV, was slain. And she became very loved by the people by striking a harmonious balance between her fashions, piety, and devotion to her husband.
At the same time, there is also one detail that many people forget and that is Katherine’s reaction to her husband’s infidelities. By the time Anne Boleyn came into the fold, Katherine had learned her ‘lesson’ and turned a blind eye to them. As long as her position was safe, she would not have to worry about the rest. But in the beginning Katherine was very upset of his affairs, and more than one occasion she voiced her displeasure. And on another, she made it very clear how she saw her husband’s illegitimate son as a threat to her daughter, the Princess Mary.
But whereas Anne was said to have been outspoken in front of many of her ladies and his closest friends; Katherine unleashed her anger when they were in private, and in other ways through cold looks and sarcastic remarks.

Sources:

  • Katherine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

King Henry VII’s Burial: Reassesing the first Tudor Monarch

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, their effigies at the lady Chapel in Westminster and the symbol that their union created which has endured in the imaginations of historians and avid readers when they study the Tudors.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, their effigies at the lady Chapel in Westminster and the symbol that their union created which has endured in the imaginations of historians and avid readers when they study the Tudors.

On the 11th of May 1509 Henry VII was laid to rest in the Lady Chapel that he built for himself and his wife, at Westminster Abbey. Their effigies can be appreciated, as well as the effigies of his other descendants (also buried here). Westminster was no strange place to Henry. Three months after his coronation, he married the beautiful Elizabeth of York here. The wedding as Suzannah Lipscomb describes in her book A Journey Through Tudor England “was cause for celebration indeed. It marked the coming together of the warring houses of York and Lancaster: an end to the bloody Wars of the Roses that had torn England apart on and off for over thirty years. A strikingly attractive and intelligent woman, with long golden hair, Elizabeth wore her finest robes for the wedding –described as glowing ‘with gold and purple dye’- and a necklace ‘framed in fretted gold.’ She carried symbolic white and red roses.”

Their marriage also gave birth to a new symbol: The Tudor Rose. Yet the red rose of Lancaster and white rose of York joined together in matrimony was nothing more an illusion. The Yorks and Lancasters sported more devices than just one rose each. Their origins as Leanda de Lisle states:

“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in the English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long associated with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the Mystical Rose of Heaven. But Henry IV had once used red roses to decorate his pavilion at a joust, their use as a Lancastrian royal badge was not widespread before the advent of the Tudors.”

In the five hundred and sixteen years after his death, he remains a figure of controversy, everything from he was a miser, or not a good enough king, or his mother killed the princes in the tower, has been said about him, but the truth is we think this way of Henry because he spent more time behind a desk, overseeing his country’s development, and his family’s welfare for that matter, than in becoming popular. We usually remember the monarchs who were once young, energetic, and handsome and who despite causing so much trouble afterwards, still dressed splendidly and spent their money on huge frivolities. And it is because of that, that we tend to overlook the more serious and less romanticized monarchs. Henry’s life story however is just as interesting as all of these other monarchs. And the fact of the matter is that regarding the princes’ disappearance, is something we will never know. But just as Richard’s defenders say that you cannot condemn him based on little evidence, you can use the same argument for Henry and his mother. There are ‘perhaps’ ‘could haves’ but never any certainties. Just as kings were known to be pious, they were also known to be cruel and Richard was not any different. The facts don’t lie, to secure his power, he executed Lord Rivers (Elizabeth Woodville’s brother), Richard Woodville (hers on), and Hastings and imprisoned others that he considered were also a threat. His brother and father had been brutally killed when he was very young, and being exposed to violence at a very young era, no doubt, had an effect on him. The same can be said for Henry Tudor who saw from an early age the destruction of his mother’s house, the Beauforts, and his uncle’s, the Lancastrian. And when he became a target of Edward IV (who feared he would be perceived as the new hope for the lase Lancastrians) he and his uncle Jasper fled the country.

This alone makes his story one of the most amazing found in English medieval history.

“The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne –his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation, and the compromises that he had been forced to make, including the support from France and hiss former Yorkist enemies in gaining the crown- was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved victory that he should have not on” (Skidmore)

As the royal procession reached Westminster Abbey on that fateful day, people could see the massive wax tapers weighing over twelve hundred pounds. As his coffin was lowered down to be placed next to his wife, the choir sang ‘Libera me’: “Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day … When thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.”

Despite his miserly attitude after the death of his son and wife, he kept corresponding with his eldest daughter whose affection for her was clearly evident as he consoled her in one of their first letters when she told him that she was feeling homesick. On his deathbed, Henry had made provisions so 10,000 masses would be said to aid his soul’s journey into the afterlife, and the other half to religious gifts and charities. When his son ascended to the throne he posed an important question which perhaps still resonates today when we hear debates about which Tudor King (of the first two) mattered the most. In the Dynasty portrait made in the last decade of his reign, Henry VIII had Holbein put him and his father on the right with their respective and favored wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour on the left. Separating them is this huge monument that reads “The former often overcame his enemies and the fires of his country and finally gave peace to its citizens but the son, born indeed for greater tasks, drives the unworthy from the altars and brings in men of integrity. The presumption of popes has yielded to unerring virtue and with Henry VIII bearing, the scepter in his hand, religion has been restored.” The message is clear, ‘my dad was great but I am greater.’

The Tudor Dynasty Portrait. Henry VIII is showing in his imposing self, below his father who is leaning towards the central altar, at the opposite side is his mother and Jane Seymour -the consort he asked to be buried with for the simple reason that he'd given him his long awaited for son.
The Tudor Dynasty Portrait. Henry VIII is showing in his imposing self, below his father who is leaning towards the central altar, at the opposite side is his mother and Jane Seymour -the consort he asked to be buried with for the simple reason that he’d given him his long awaited for son.

There is no doubt that Henry VIII did change the course of English history by separating from the Roman Catholic Church and commissioned a new bible in English by Miles Coverdale which made it easier for people to have access to; but his father (a man who triumphed against all odds) was just as great.

 

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Richard III: The Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
  • Tudor Treasury by Elizabeth Norton
  • Winter King by Thomas Penn

Henry VII Dies: The Death of the Red Dragon

Henry VII Bosworth

On Saturday 21st of April 1509, Henry VII died at Richmond Palace. He was the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty and while he has been eclipsed by his larger than life son, Henry remains one of the most fascinating figures of the modern era.

“The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne –his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation … was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved victory that he should not have won.” (Skidmore)

He created a new symbol called the Tudor Rose which was nothing more than a device, an alternate tale to explain the roots of the conflict known today as the “wars of the roses”. The wars was a more complex conflict than what we are told and involved as many players as we can imagine. The warring Houses known as Lancaster and York, had many sigils. The white and the red rose where the emblems chosen by Henry Tudor to represent both Houses to give a new narrative of this conflict. It was an effective device that would become to represent not just the union of both Houses that came about with Henry VII’s marriage with Elizabeth of York, but of his descendants. On January 1559, fifty years after his death, his granddaughter, Elizabeth I rode from the Tower of London to Westminster on the eve of her coronation, and on her way she encountered five pageants, one of which showed “two personages representing King Henry the Seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of King Edward the Fourth” seated together, above each head was the red rose and white rose respectively “out of which [these] two roses sprang two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to a second stage wherein was placed one representing the valiant and noble prince King Henry [VIII]”.

Clearly, the Tudor rose was seen not just as a validation to his descendants’ right to the throne, but as something preordained by God, something that told the people that with them, the wars of the roses had come to a close, and peace had finally reigned in England. Whether this was true or not, and nobles believed it or not, is up to dispute. But nobody can deny that it was an effective piece of propaganda that convinced the people that war had come to an end, and that this new dynasty would bring them peace and prosperity. Tudor and Elizabethan literature helped a great deal when they continued to use this device to explain the reasons behind the conflict, reducing it to a dynastic conflict between two warring houses.

Tudor Rose 1

“The frontispiece was such a popular motif that it was repeated and reused on other, unconnected works: the same family tree appeared unmodified in John Stow’s 1550 and 1561 editions of Chaucer’s works, introducing the section on the Canterbury Tales. Just as John, Duke of Bedford, had plastered occupied France with genealogies advertising the legitimacy of the joint monarchy during the 1520s; just as Edward IV had obsessively compiled genealogies tracing his rightful royal descent from centuries long gone; so too did the Tudors drive home the message both of their right to rule and of their version of history. By Elizabeth’s reign the mere sight of red and white roses entwined was enough to evoke instantly the whole story of the fifteenth century: the Crown had been thrown into dispute and disarray by the Lancastrian deposition of Richard II in 1399; this had prompted nearly a century of warfare between two rival clans, which was a form of divine punishment for the overthrow of a rightful King; finally in 1485, the Tudors had reunited the families and saved the realm. It was that simple.” (Jones)

And yet all of Henry’s hard work, to maintain stability in his new realm, his marriage and his family, suffered a huge setback when his eldest son and beloved heir, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia died as a result of the plague in early April 1502. He and his wife were utterly devastated. “The shadow cast by Arthur’s death” writes Dan Jones “was long and dark” but not as dark as historians Amy Licence and Alison Weir add, that of Elizabeth of York’s death a year later. Their deaths were too much for the aging King, who began to isolate himself from the public, coming out only for state occasions. When Henry’s condition worsened, his mother (Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond) who was sick herself, ordered that her son be moved to Richmond that March.

Margaret Beaufort old

“Her hands, now cramped with arthritis, were so painful that she would sometimes cry out ‘Oh Blessed Jesus help me!’ But to watch her son suffer was so much worse. The dying King sobbed as he reflected on the lives he had ruined. His last agonies began at about 10 pm Friday 20 April.” (de Lisle)

Margaret brought her confessor, John Fisher, to hear his confession and give him his last rites. And then on the morning of April 21st, Henry died.

Margaret immediately began to make preparations for her grandson’s coronation and kept the King’s death a secret for three days. She organized a meeting with his councilors and co-executors at his will at Greenwich to discuss, among many things, her son’s burial and the upcoming regency during her son’s short minority. Henry VIII was not yet eighteen and Margaret wanted to make sure that he was safely installed in his throne, before he took on the reins of government. Margaret had great experience in this since she had been a child of nine attending the court of her cousin, Henry VI, to repudiate her betrothal to de la Pole. The meeting took place on the celebration of the Order of the Garter –an Order she was a member of. Her grandson was present and while he was anxious to start his new reign, he recognized his grandmother’s experience, and respected her authority. Later that night, Henry’s death was announced and sadly (at least to Margaret, it must have been) nobody mourned his death and according to contemporary chroniclers, they greeted his death with celebration. To many historians, Thomas Penn included, Henry VII is a miserly figure who was consumed by darkness of his own making and who will forever be remember as a somber and cold figure. But this, as Linda Porter in her recent biography of the Tudors and Stewarts points out, is “an unfair assessment”.

A young Henry Tudor.
A young Henry Tudor.

“He was comely personage, a little above just stature, well and straight-limbed, but slender. His countenance was revered, and a little like a churchman, and as it was not strange or dark so neither was it winning or pleasing, but as the face of one well disposed. But it was to the disadvantage of the painter, for it was best when he spoke.” (Bacon)

Although written over a century after his death, Francis Bacon’s description of the first Tudor King, is right on the spot. Linda Porter adds:

“[He was] A considered person, not given to great public displays of emotion, somewhat ascetic in appearance, not exactly handsome but with an interesting and by no means unattractive face, the whole man only at his most appealing when he was animated. His portraits show that he did, indeed, have something of the churchman about him: a calm and also inscrutability, a sense that you would never entirely know that he was thinking. It gave him an air of authority.” (Porter)

Henry VII was an energetic young man at the time of his exile, yet he was also controlled and cautious as the descriptions above, provide. He loved to laugh, joke and gamble but whereas some kings and leaders were known for their vices, Henry was not known to have any. Some of those who met him during his exile, were surprised how someone who had lived and survived through so much, could be so controlled and yet not bitter. When he became King, he kept some of the measures that King Edward IV had introduced, he kept the Star Chamber on a tight leash, terminated private liveries which meant that nobles could no longer have private armies, and defeated the pretender forces of Lambert Simnel who posed as Edward, Earl of Warwick (George, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville’s son) and Perkin Warbeck who posed as Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.

Henry never forgot those who had helped him get to where he was and in his last will he names those “lords as well of our blood as other, and also knights, squires and divers our true loving subjects and servants’ who had ‘faithfully assisted us, and divers of them put themselves in extreme jeopardy of their lives, and losses of their lands and goods, in serving and assisting us, as well about the recovery of our Right and Realm of England.’ And in one final tribute to his victory in battle twenty four years before, the dying King requested that a wooden image, wrought with plate of fine gold, should be made, ‘representing our own person … in the manner of an armed man’, to be equipped with an enameled coat of the arms of England and France, together with a sword and spurs. The statue was to be placed kneeling on a silver table, ‘holding betwixt his hands the crown which it pleased God to give us, with the victory over our enemy at our first field.’ The statue was to be dedicated to St. Edward the Confessor, and set in the middle of his shrine, with detailed instructions as to the exact measurements of the statue, so that it would seem as if Henry was almost offering up his crown to St. Edward in thanks.” (Skidmore)

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Henry’s body remained in Richmond for two weeks until it was finally laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, inside the Lady Chapel that Henry had ordered constructed for him, his wife and his descendants. He was buried right beside her. Above them, standing a massive golden effigy, representing both of them.

Sources:

  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • The Winter King by Thomas Penn
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation and Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Family by Leanda de Lisle