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

 

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Nicholas Udall honors Henry VIII’s new Queen, Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn crowned henry viii and his six wives bbc

Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England on the 1st of June 1533. It was a joyous occasion for her and Henry VIII, who had arranged for her to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward (a crown reserved for Kings; queens were crowned with the smaller crown of St. Edith) so there would be no question about the legitimacy of their unborn heir.

Many poems were done that celebrated this event. Among the most prominent was Nichollas Udall’s which celebrated her lineage and exalted her insignia of the white falcon crowned.

Anne Boleyn white falcon

“This White Falcon, rare and geason,
This bird shineth so bright;
Of all that are,
Of this bird can write.
No man earthly enough truly
can praise this Falcon White.
Who will express great gentleness
to be in any wight [man];
He will not miss,
But can call him this
The gentle Falcon White.
This gentle bird as white as curd
Shineth both day and night;
Nor far nor near is nay peer
Unto this Falcon White,
Of body small, of power regal
She is, and sharp of sight;
Of courage hault
No manner fault is in this Falcon White,
In chastity excelleth she,
Most like a virgin bright:
And worthy is to live in bliss
Always this Falcon White.
But now to take
And use her make
Is time, as troth is plight;
That she may bring fruit according
For such a Falcon White.
And where by wrong,
She hath fleen long,
Uncertain where to light;
Herself repose
Upon the Rose,
Now many this Falcon White.
Whereon to rest,
And build her nest;
GOD grant her, most of might!
That England may rejoice as always
In this same Falcon White.”

Nicholas Udall was an English poet who like Anne and several others at the time, was part of a group of people who were sympathetic towards the Protestant Reformation and as time went by, he became one of the strongest supporters of the Anglican church, being widely favored during Edward VI’s reign.

His poem celebrating Anne Boleyn’s coronation were one of many honoring other like-minded figures. But like the subject of his epic poem, Nicholas Udall’s life was also paved with controversy. That same year, he was accused of mistreating his students and charged with buggery. If found guilty, he would have been sentenced to die by hanging. Luckily for him, he had friends in Thomas Cromwell’s circle (whose star was on the rise) and they helped him by lessening his sentence to less than a year.

Sources:

  • Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Blackwell. 2005.
  • Norton, Elizabeth. The Boleyn Women: The Tudor Femme Fatales Who Changed English History. Amberly. 2013.
  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Murder. Manipulation. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.

Bittersweet Symphonies

Anne and Padme tragic romance

There is something universal in myths and these stories that appeal to us. Perhaps its because that is how we want things to have happened, in the case of history, or how we dream our lives would go. But while both are fun and entertaining there is something problematic when the stories get too romanticized and we think ‘oh well they could have been happy if only these people didn’t stand in their way’ or something along those lines.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Star Wars and I love Tudor history but one thing that irks me is when the fans go all crazy and start saying these are the OTP. Henry was in love with Anne. Anakin was in love with Padme and no more discussion. I think there should be room for discussion simply because both show four deeply flawed characters. And that is how love is in real life. People are not perfect, we are flawed and we have a lot of issues. Some more than others. Anakin is a person with so many issues that it was impossible for him and Padme to have a good relationship. Not only that, did they ever knew each other? Physical attraction is an important component into falling in love.

Anne was noted for being exotic. She wasn’t your typical beauty (blond, blue eyes, fair face, etc). These traits were associated with how the Virgin Mary was presented. Even if you missed the hair, but had all of the other traits you were still considered a beauty. Catherine of Aragon met all of these requirements and she was beautiful. As she got older however and eight pregnancies and many miscarriages, she lost her figure. That isn’t to say she was ugly by any means. King Francois I’s words that she was deformed are unwarranted as they were aimed against Henry.  And it was common practice to attack your enemies by attacking their spouses or closest female relatives. If you look at portraits of Catherine from the late 1520s, including miniatures, you will find that she was still very attractive. Henry however needed a son. And when he locked eyes with Anne, he was intrigued by her. Here was a woman who so different from the others in his life, who like Catherine was smart and religious, and just like her was very opinionated.

One of the strongest features about Anne Boleyn were her dark brown, almost black orbs. They were remarked a lot. Nicholas Sander later in  Elizabeth’s reign said that she was ugly that she had to use other means to get Henry interested in her (implying she used magic). But Sander was writing against her daughter, so he had an agenda. But even he admitted that she was one of the most educated and fashionable ladies of her times.
*Anne wasn’t the first to introduce French fashions to the English court, but she was the one who made them more popular.

After Henry VIII made his intentions to marry Anne Boleyn, this is when things got pretty ugly. Catherine’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V’s mercenaries had sacked Rome in 1527. This put Henry in a complicated spot. There was NO way that the Emperor was ever going to let Clement VII grant the King of England his much desired annulment. Henry sent Thomas Cranmer who’d once been a staunch Catholic to Rome in the hopes of convincing the Pope. The problem with the Papacy was this: It didn’t declare, not just Clement, in favor of Henry, but neither did it rule in Charles’ favor. The latter as the former was equally angry because of this. And to make matters worse for Rome, so was Catherine. She sent an angry letter in December 17th, of 1530 in which she urged him to reach a decision, dramatically saying that the future of their faith was at stake. The pope didn’t listen and things continued on hold until after Henry’s marriage to Anne (early 1533, though late 1532 according to other sources) was made official by Cranmer in May of 1533, and their firstborn, Princess Elizabeth was born in September of that year.

This was too late but it would have made little difference if it came earlier. If Henry wasn’t going to get what he wanted, he was going to take it no matter what. His passion for Anne was such that it was only superseded by his need for a male heir. (Which let’s be fair, the Tudor dynasty NEEDED.)

Anne Boleyn and Padme nonsense

Towards the beginning of the 1533, it was being rumored that Henry VIII had married Anne and that she was pregnant with their first child. The rumors didn’t lie. Anne was crowned Queen of England in a ceremony that outranked her rival and predecessor, Katherine of Aragon. While Katherine was crowned with the crown of Edith as was customary for Queens Consorts of England, Anne was crowned with the crown of St Edward which was reserved only for Kings. Henry didn’t want to leave any question of the legitimacy of his marriage and his unborn child which he hoped was a boy. Four months later she gave birth to a healthy baby girl who was named Elizabeth after both her grandmothers. Although Henry was disappointed, he heavily doted on her. But after two, possibly three miscarriages (once again the sources differ) and Henry’s infatuation with a new lady-in-waiting who like Anne before her, denied to give herself up to him, he began to grow tired of her and the rest as they say is history.

Where does that leave Anakin and Padme, though? And how is it that two beloved couples whose union spelled tragedy for many around them, including themselves be elevated to the status of ‘one true pairing’ or ‘one true love’? The answer is simple. Because deep down, we all yearn to relive that fantasy through the avatars of our favorite historical and in the case of Star Wars, science fiction characters. But their love wasn’t true love. True love doesn’t exist in real life. People fall in and out of love all the time. There is nothing wrong with that. George Lucas read Joseph Campbell’s ‘A hero of a thousand faces’ which explained why so many cultures’ heroes and anti-heroes share similar paths. There is definitely something in human psyche which makes us yearn for these similar stories and while entertaining, we must learn to distinguish myth from reality.

We have two men who were widely praised by almost everyone. Who despite their arrogance later in life, were once humble and dedicated to their friends and family, and were very much unlike their predecessors and their contemporaries.

Anakin Skywalker didn’t mind talking to “lower life forms”. Obi Wan would as so many other Jedi, sneer at people below them. Anakin did not and from the “Clone Wars” TV series and Matthew Stover’s novelization of Episode III “Revenge of the Sith” we learn that he was worshiped by nearly everyone and called the “hero without fear”. Here was a Jedi that everyone could relate to. Someone who was cocky but who didn’t look down on those who weren’t Force-Sensitive and who cared deeply for his friends, secret family and apprentice Ashoka Tano. His good looks and his charisma eventually faded away when Anakin was scarred by the fires of Mustafar when his former mentor and friend, Obi Wan Kenobi cut his arm and legs and left him for dead. Henry VIII like Anakin was very humble, widely praised by everyone, including the Venetian Ambassador on his joint coronation with his first spouse, Katherine of Aragon. He said that he was very handsome and his old friend and mentor, Sir Thomas More said that there was no better prince than him. To everyone, Henry was everything a prince should be and he surrounded himself by the best minds in Europe, “new men” and he was very approachable unlike most of his predecessors. As Henry became more obsessed with fame and securing the Tudor dynasty through a son, his charisma slowly faded away as well as his looks and the fall from his horse in 1536, some historians like Suzannah Lipscomb have theorized, worsened this.

Indeed, here were two men for whom everyone expected the best. Sir Thomas More could not have hoped for a better King; and you can hear the sadness in Obi Wan’s voice when he yells at his former apprentice and friend: “You were the chosen, it was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them!” But Obi Wan and Sir Thomas More, despite their virtues, were lying to themselves if they didn’t think that power wouldn’t go to their heads. Henry needed a male heir to secure the Tudor dynasty, but as he became obsessed with power, he became hugely unstable and so did Anakin. Anakin never knew love or acceptance except from his mother. Like Henry, his mother became the model for which he judged others, especially his wife. Perhaps Anakin did love Padme, but it is my view that he was more in love with the idea of falling in love just like the King of England.

This idea stemmed from their love of chivalry. Anakin tells Qui-Gon-Jinn in Episode 1 The Phantom Menace that he dreams of being a Jedi. He has heard tales of these knights with their shining lightsabers, freeing people from bondage. Master Yoda tells his offspring, Luke Skywalker that all his father could ever think of was adventure. A Jedi, he explains to Luke, should be more than that. Similarly, the same thing could be said about Henry. A King has to think more adventure and chivalry and be practical when he has to. Henry VIII however wanted to be another Henry V, he wanted as Lord Mountjoy put it, achieve immortality.

Well, for all intent and purposes they did. But not in the way they would have liked to be remembered. While many excuse or condemn them, we must all agree that their actions can’t be forgotten. Vader didn’t give the order to blow up Alderaan but he sure didn’t lift a finger to stop it. Henry VIII didn’t orchestrate the dissolution of the monasteries (that was Cromwell’s brainchild) but he didn’t put a stop to it either.

And let’s not forget their wives.

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII Padme Anakin

In Henry’s case, his second wife as we’ve addressed became his obsession. She was different in appearance and his rebuff only intensified his interest for her. Many still are of the opinion that she was a homewrecker while others put her on a pedestal and say she was the feminist of her day. Both of these views are wrong. Anne was a woman of her time, with the same prejudices and she was also deeply religious. Although she didn’t seek to become Henry’s mistress and wife, she realized that there was no way to refuse Henry for long. If she continued to do so, his wrath could be unleash on her family or worse (for her), nobody would marry her and marriage was an important goal for any highborn woman in the sixteenth century. After all, no man in his right mind would propose to a woman the king was after. So Anne accepted. And as soon as she became Queen, she did her best to further the Reform. Her disagreement with Cromwell unlike what was shown in BBC’s “Wolf Hall” was not over her loss of influence or power, but because the money from the dissolution was being used to enrichen the King. She wanted to use the money for educational programs that could promote the Reform. Her brother was a known Reformer as well, and the King’s ambassador.

Anne Boleyn and Padme killed by their husbands
After nearly three years of marriage, Henry’s love for Anne faded away in the same manner that Anakin’s did for Padme. While the latter seemed to regret his decision when Palpatine tells him what his actions led to, he doesn’t mention her again. This was a woman he was obsessed with, he dreamed of, and as he tells Obi Wan, a woman whose presence was “toxic” and he wanted so badly. She was his angel, a larger than life figure. And like Anne, Padme had faith and conviction and was one of the founders of the Rebellion which her daughter later spearheaded and with her son, helped bring about the end of the Empire. This is reminiscent of Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth, another strong woman who continued with the Reform, albeit she was more pragmatic, and didn’t want a strict Protestant establishment because she had learned from her brother’s reign the chaos that had brought.
Both of them never really knew them. And when they became an obstacle, they tossed them aside and made no mention of them ever again. Anakin wanted unlimited power yet he ended up becoming a slave of Palpatine and while Henry VIII became the Supreme Head of his new church, it can also be argued that he became a slave to his own fantasies and madness. And that is how they ended up being remembered as two equally magnificent and terrible figures.

Darth Vader and Henry VIII horrible bosses

The two killed their former mentors and trusted friends. Sir Thomas More was executed for not recognizing Henry as Supreme Head of the Church while Obi Wan for not recognizing Anakin’s new allegiance and calling him “master of Evil”. And everyone else who failed to live up to their expectations suffered the same or a worse fate.

Anakin and Henry marred by destiny and murder

These were men who went from charismatic to terrible. And the people that worked for them dreaded a promotion because they remembered what happened to their predecessors, Ozzel, Needa, Cromwell, More, George Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, and so many others. With these two, the odds were never going to be your favor.

Sources:

  • Star Wars and History by Nancy R. Reagin and Janice Liedi
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Star Wars saga, episodes 1 -6 created by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Stover
  • The Clone Wars and Rebels TV Series
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
  • Henry and Anne Boleyn: A Love Story? By Lissa Bryan
  • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

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

Behind the Scenes: The Christening of Princess Elizabeth

Anne Boleyn & her daughter

Princess Elizabeth Tudor was christened on the tenth of September 1533, three days after her birth. Her mother was Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second spouse. And although some sources reported that it was with “great regret” that they welcomed their daughter into the world, the couple tried to remain positive with Henry VIII stating that he and his wife “are both young and by God’s grace, sons will follow.” It was the best they could do of a bad situation.

In her book, Antonia Fraser, states that it would have been much better for Anne and her stepdaughter, if she had given birth to a son. With a son in the Tudor cradle the pope and the rest of Catholic Europe, would have been forced to recognize the marriage. And it is highly likely, given that Spain was constantly looking to England as an ally against their ancestral enemy, France; he would have found a form of reconciling with his former uncle. As for the Lady Mary; with a brother in the cradle and the rest of Europe recognizing him as her father’s true heir, she would no longer be seen as a threat anymore and it’s very possible that she would have been married to a loyal noble or an impoverished royal or second son in due time.

Of course, this is all speculation, but given how urgent it was for Henry and Anne to have a son, these outcomes seem highly likely.

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII

Following his daughter’s birth, Henry cancelled the joust and the letters announcing her birth had to be added an extra ‘s’ for Princess. What made up for their disappointment was the princess’ health. This was a good sign for some, and proof that Anne could sire healthy children.

Prior to her christening, the rivalry between Anne and Katherine intensified when she demanded that she hand over the christening cloth she’d used for her firstborn son [Henry, Duke of Cornwall]. Naturally, Katherine refused. That cloth had been brought by Spain, it was hers and it also held a sentimental value. She was not about to give it up declaring that the mere suggestion of it was “horrible and abominable”.

Anne must have been angered, but in the end it didn’t matter because as Queen, she could have anything she wanted, so a new cloth was made.

The ceremony started very early.

“The heralds carried their tabards. Attendants and serving men bore unlighted torches. Lords and ladies carried the equipment needed for the ceremony: a gold cellar of salt, for the exorcism of the child; great silver gilt basins in which the godparents could wash off traces of the holy oil with which the child was anointed; a chrisom-cloth, to be bound over the crown of the baby’s head after she had been anointed with chrisom; and a taper, to be lit after the baptism was completed.” (Starkey)

Elizabeth was carried into the church by one of her godparents, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Her other godparents, Thomas Cranmer [Archbishop of Canterbury] and the Marchioness of Exeter were close by. The Bishop of London officiated the ceremony, christening the little Princess Elizabeth; and when it was over, she was returned to her mother who received her “joyfully lying on her great French bed with the King by her side.”

Elizabeth-I_Rainbow-Portrait

There was a lot of talk regarding her birth, and what Henry felt. Chapuys was no stranger to gossip and was the one who wrote that the couple felt very disappointed with their daughter’s gender. It would be very naïve to think that they weren’t, but as time went on, Anne showed that she was very committed to her child as her rival had been of hers; and just as Katherine, her faith become a major part of her life –taking refuge in it.

Ironically, Henry’s quest for an ‘ideal’ marriage and a son to make his dynasty be remembered, wouldn’t be accomplished by a son or another marriage, but rather by a daughter; and her refusal to wed.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

It’s a girl! Gloriana is born

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth
On the 7th of September 1533, Queen Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter she named Elizabeth, at Greenwich, the Palace of Placentia.
Anne had gone to her confinement a month earlier, confident that she was going to give birth to a son. An astrologer had made this prediction and no one had any reasons to doubt it. However, Anne would suffer many pains before her labor began.
Months prior to Elizabeth’s birth, Anne had been jealous and complained to Henry about courting other ladies, to which Henry replied that she would have to ‘endure as other worthy persons’ had done before her. In this, he meant his first wife Katherine of Aragon, and possibly his grandmother Elizabeth Woodville who had never raised her voice against her second husband, the first Yorkist King Edward IV’s indiscretions.
There had been many speculations as to what devices Anne used to bring herself comfort, if she believed as those before her had believed, in trinkets and talismans. Given her Evangelical faith, some have said that seems very unlikely, but given this was only 1533 and the Reformation was fairly new and it would be very difficult for its earliest members to disassociate themselves from the practices they’d grown into, it is more likely that she did. Her bedroom was hung with tapestries depicting St. Ursula and her army of virgins and other religious figures that had adorned the chambers of many other queens before her. Starkey and Licence are of the mind she did use medallion to invoke the power of saints to aid her in her difficult labor. She had an army of midwives and ladies ready to attend her, the former would dip their hands in animal fat and other natural oils to smooth the passage of the baby from its mother womb to her legs. The labor turned out to be less difficult and a daughter, contrary to what was predicted -and hoped for-, was born on the seventh of September at 3 o’ clock.
The girl was named after both her grandmothers, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard and Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and the first Tudor Queen.
Although Chapuys reported that the couple were disappointed of their child’s sex, when Henry entered her chambers he showed no such emotion, and said to his wife: “You and I are both young and by God’s grace, sons will follow.” An ‘s’ had to be added to the pamphlets advertising her birth (originally they had contained the word ‘Prince’). Te Deums were sung in churches and preparations were being made for her Christening at the Church of the Observant Friars (where her sister had also been Christened).

Elizabeth Tudor would face the same fate as her older sister. She would be bastardized, her mother beheaded and for many years, nobody would think of her as a threat, or anything more than a nuisance. However this ‘bastard’ girl would become one of the smartest and most cunning women in the realm; and she would have as a role model another great woman: Katherine Parr.

“In observing Katherine Parr as regent and queen consort, Elizabeth learned a good deal about how women could think for themselves and govern. She greatly admired her stepmother’s literary output and clearly discussed religious ideas with her when they met, which was not nearly often enough for Elizabeth’s liking.“ (Porter)

Besides that, Elizabeth would face many other obstacles which would toughen her resolve to survive and to step up to the plate that she was born to, as Queen of England. To this day, Elizabeth continues to divide historians. Was she as good as they say? Or was it all lies, part of her propaganda machine? The answer isn’t clear. Elizabeth was as cunning, conniving and as ruthless as any other monarch in her time, but she was also a pragmatist who continued with some of her sister’s monetary policies, while opting for a middle ground. Instead of being wholly Protestant, she chose a grayer path. Not many were happy with her policies whoever, and like those before her, she had to face many rebellions. Yet, her reign became one of the most successful of the Tudor period, and the age she lived in even carries her name “Elizabethan” and the myth of the “Golden Age” continues to this day.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth the Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter

Queen Anne Boleyn: The White Falcon is Crowned

Anne Boleyn white falcon

On Whitsunde, the first of June 1533, Anne Boleyn was carried in a litter from Westminster Hall to the Abbey where she prostrated herself before the altar in a cross position to be crowned Queen of England. After she rose she was anointed with the holy oils on the breast and head as was tradition. Then the archbishop placed the crown of St. Edward on her head. This was something new. Queens were originally crowned with the crown of St. Edith but Henry wanted to validate his marriage before the English people, and also, the legitimacy of their unborn child. The ceremonies had begun on the May the twenty ninth when Anne rode from the Greenwich in a barge followed by many others to the Tower of London. The following day, her husband created eighteen new knights of the Bath. The day before her coronation, she rode from the Tower of London to Westminster Hall where she was greeted by a children’s choir and many more pageants that hailed her as the new Queen of England. But June was the day that she truly became Queen of England. Many commoners watched with expectation as Henry’s new wife emerged from Westminster Hall, carried in a white and gold litter, followed by the newly created knight of the Bath, as she made her way to the Abbey. She wore a surcoat of white and gold with a cloth of purple velvet and jeweled circlet with gold crosses and fleurs-de-lys that had originally been worn by her rival on her joint coronation with Henry VIII on 1509.

This was a significant event, one which the Imperial and Spanish Ambassadors, Chapuys and de Guaras did not report on favorably. According to them, the people were not to see this woman occupy the position of Queen Katherine.
There is no doubt where de de Guaras and Chapuys’ loyalties lay. However there is no evidence that the people felt this way about their queen-to-be. The people were more worried about the security of the kingdom. They needed a Prince of Wales to secure the Tudor dynasty to avoid civil war. England had just come out of a civil war, and the last time England had been this close to having a Queen Regnant, the country had descended into anarchy. No one wished to see those two terrible events repeat themselves. It was crucial that the King had a son, not just for his dynasty’s security, but for their security as well.

“The lavish display, the huge turnout of peers and dignitaries, the thousands of Londoners lining the route, even the prompt publication of the proceedings in the form of a tract entitled ‘The noble triyumphaunt coronacyon of queen Anne’, all indicate a shrewd political mind, and a keen eye for detail.” (Loades)

After the Mass, Anne made a small offering to the shrine of St. Edward then was escorted by her father to the great banquet that awaited her in Whitehall (which was reputedly Anne’s favorite residence). Upon her arrival, the heralds cried:

Anne Boleyn crown spoiled b

“Now the noble Anna bears the sacred diadem.”

Many other poems, commemorating her coronation were made, one of the most memorable is by Nicholas Udalls which celebrated the white falcon, the animal on her badge, and her noble ancestry. But the most epic is perhaps by Whittington. Although short, it compared Anne to all the classical figures of the ancient word, extolling on her virtues and greatness.

“Hail Anna! Jewel shining outstandingly gracefully
This year will be joyful and favorable for you.
You will see years, months, and days as happy as
those which Livia, the consort of Caesar saw…”

Furthermore, religious imagery was added. St. Anne who was being used for Anne as St. Catherine had been used for Katherine. In being compared these religious saints, Anne’s role as a religious matron and a paradigm of wifely virtue, was heightened.

Anne Boleyn bictudors

Truly, this was one of Anne’s best moments. Her victory was nearly complete. All she needed was to give birth to a son and her place and her offspring’s place would be secured. But it would not be a son who would make Anne immortal but a series of mismanagements and tragic outcomes of the Tudor period, that led her daughter to become one of the most famous monarchs in English history.

Sources:

  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
  • The Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Anne Boleyn: A Life by Eric Ives
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

May 29th 1533: The Coronation Ceremonies Begin

Anne Boleyn.  National Trust, Petworth House.
Anne Boleyn. National Trust, Petworth House.

On May the 29th of 1533, Anne Boleyn’s coronation began. The procession began at 1 o’clock. The Lord Mayor Sir Stephen Peacock and the Aldermen assembled at St. Mary-at-hill with the Common Councilors to board the City barge at New Stairs to lead the river pageant. On these barges was Anne Boleyn, in her own private barge. The river pageant was one which had not been seen since her mother-in-law’s coronation, Elizabeth of York. Henry wanted to make it clear to everyone through excessive pageantry that Anne Boleyn was his one and true wife, and the child resting in her womb, the future King. Henry did not disappoint in his efforts. The people were mesmerized. Even the Imperial Ambassador admitted it was a spectacular affair. Mechanical dragons greeted the royal barges as they made their way to the Tower of London. After which, Anne Boleyn clad in a cloth of gold, disembarked from hers, and greeted Henry who was eagerly waiting for her. Despite being forty and showing early signs of obesity, he was still considered handsome. A Venetian observer said he had a “face like an angel, so fair it shone like Caesar’s”.

“Anne’s face, we can imagine, was even more cheerful. For everything she had hoped for since 1527-the King, the throne, the very kingdom itself- was now hers.”

Indeed this was the near culmination of her ambitions. However, Anne and Henry would later miscalculate when the unexpected happened, and nature had its last say. For Henry it was of the utmost importance that he validate his marriage. He had moved heaven and earth to marry Anne, and more than that to begat a legitimate male heir. Henry Fitzroy is recorded with being his worldly jewel, but a bastard could not inherit his dominions and no English peer believed Mary could rule on her own. Her maternal grandmother was an oddity, one of the few they ignored, but this was England and England’s memory of ruling Queens was not very generous. Isabella “the she wolf of France” (a nickname originally given to Marguerite of Anjou), and Empress Matilda. The woman who would have made Queen. These were just two of many examples that the English used to justify their fear of having a female King. And England had just come out of an infamous dynastic war that had split the country into many factions. England desperately wanted to be at peace. Even those that loved Queen Katherine and still considered her their true Queen of Hearts, attended the ceremonies of Anne’s coronation. Probably they were eagerly awaiting the result of her pregnancy. If she gave to a boy, the Tudor dynasty could be preserved and the people could be spared from another civil war.

Anne Boleyn and Henry; Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)
Anne Boleyn and Henry; Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

After the festivities concluded, Anne and Henry dined at the Tower where they held a splendid reception. The ceremonies would resumed the following day and the day after that. And finally on the fourth day, on the 1st of June, Anne would become Queen of England. The first Queen to be crowned with the crown of the Confessor.

Sources:

  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle.

Thomas Cranmer becomes Archbishop of Canterbury

Thomas Cranmer young at his life

Thomas Cranmer, former chaplain to the Boleyn family, and Archdeacon of Tauton was invested on Passion Sunday as Archbishop of Canterbury in St. Stephen’s College at Westminster Abbey on the 30th of March 1533. Once he was consecrated, he set about working to dissolve the King’s first marriage, declaring it null three months later, making the King’s union with Anne valid. Ironically, he would also be the one to pronounce this union invalid when her trial began. Thomas Cranmer was one of the most influential figures in the English Reformation and thanks to him, the two versions of the Book of Common prayer were issued during Edward VI’s time. Unlike many other radical reformer, Thomas Cranmer became more pragmatic with age. He was still a religious devotee, but after seeing the kingdom being torn down by the wars of the religion, he agreed that there had to be room for some sort of middle ground. He was good friends with the Lord Protector and not very good friends with his ally, John Knox whom Cranmer thought too radical and fanatical.

When Mary I became Queen, trumping the Protestant’s plans to install Jane in her place, he accepted her as his new monarch, however he put certain conditions which he later insisted more upon. One of these were that he condemned the returned of the Mass, and also he started to encourage religious upheaval which led to his incarceration, the loss of his Archbishopric and his death (at the stake) on March 21st, 1555.

Sources:

  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley