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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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

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

The Confession of the Lady Mary Tudor

Lady Mary played by Sarah Bolger in "Tudors" season 3. In this scene she is forced to sign the dreaded act which she says will haunt her to the end of her days.
Lady Mary played by Sarah Bolger in “Tudors” season 3. In this scene she is forced to sign the dreaded act which she says will haunt her to the end of her days.

On the 22nd of June 1536 the King’s eldest daughter, the Lady Mary Tudor, signed the document titled “The Confession of Me the Lady Mary” in which she accepted that she was never the trueborn daughter of Henry VIII of England but a product of incest born out of the unlawful union of her mother, Katherine of Aragon and her father the King. The Confession was signed twelve days after she had explicitly said no to her father’s ministers who had done the impossible and bullied her to get to accept. It was Chapuys and Cromwell who finally convinced her by telling her that if she didn’t sign then she would be deemed a traitor and tried as such. To her father, blood ties didn’t matter when the security of the realm was at stake. The articles of the confession go as follows:

  1. First, I confess and acknowledge the King’s Majesty to be my sovereign lord and King, in the Imperial Crown of his realm of England, and do submit myself to His Highness, and to all and singular laws and statues of this realm, as becometh a true and faithful subject to do.
  2. I do recognize and accept and take and repute and acknowledge the King’s Highness to be Supreme Head in Earth under Christ of the Church of England and do utterly refuse the Bishop of Rome’s pretended authority, power and jurisdiction within this realm heretofore usurped.
  3. I do freely, frankly recognize and acknowledge that the marriage, heretofore had between His Majesty and my mother (the late Princess Dowager) was by God’s law and Man’s law, incestuous and unlawful.

Signed Mary Tudor

The Confession would haunt Mary for the rest of her life. In signing it, she felt that she was not only betraying what she believed in, but her mother who never wavered in her faith and stopped calling herself Queen and fought for her daughter’s right to be her father’s heir. No doubt, Mary was doing this for survival and the two men must have made a point that she would do more good to her cause alive than dead, especially Chapuys who had grown very close to the young woman.

Lady Mary and her father Henry VIII at her re-introduction at court.
Lady Mary and her father Henry VIII at her re-introduction at court.

Following her surrender, she was welcomed back in court. Those who believed they had beaten the former princess would soon be disappointed. If anything, it reshaped her character making her prouder, more resilient and optimistic about her future.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Inside the Tudor Court by Lauren Mackay
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock

Jane Seymour & Henry VIII’s Marriage: Reassessing the Phoenix

Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in
Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in “The Tudors” s3.

On the thirtieth of May 1536, Henry and Jane were married at Whitehall palace at the Queen’s Closet. The ceremony was officiated by none other than the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer who was Jane’s predecessor former chaplain. The wedding took place, according to Fraser “quickly and quietly”

Jane quickly established herself in her new role. Although she wasn’t vociferous like her predecessors, Jane did voice her opinion on several occasions. Her latest biographers Loades and Norton show that when she voiced them, she was very subtle. Had she lived, Norton believes Jane would have taken on “the political role that would have been open to her as the mother of the heir to the throne”. Jane Seymour appears as ‘boring’ or ‘conniving’ in popular culture, slammed for daring to take Anne’s position (which many view was rightfully hers). But history medieval and renaissance history is not about who was right or wrong. Laws could be changed or interpreted in many different ways. Ultimately who deserved the right to be called queen, or be revered, is to the reader.
Given Henry’s tastes it is hard to say whether he would have tired of Jane or not. She displayed herself as many other consorts before her had done, including Henry’s mother whom Henry revered and whom he seemed to judge his other wives on. Women were expected to take on certain roles, Consorts bore more responsibilities. They had to present themselves as the epitomes of virtue, and be prepared to rule in their husband’s absence or when their sons were too young to do so after they were crowned.
Would anyone be surprised if we were to find out that the “she wolves” Isabella of France and Marguerite of Anjou behaved like Jane Seymour before shit hit the fan? Thought so.
Isabella of France submitted herself to humiliation on the part of her husband and his favorites. During her coronation she saw her husband’s favorite’s arms displayed on the banquet instead of hers. She saw honors heaped on this man and then his replacement after he was executed by the Earl of Lancaster. Isabella said nothing, not a word while she lived. She obviously felt angry, but she never voiced her opinions. She did what Consorts did. She bore Edward II’s children, begged mercy for traitors, and appeared on state functions with her husband –including when they went to visit her father Philip IV “the Fair” of France. Isabella’s chance for revenge came when he sent her to France, to negotiate on his behalf with the new King of France, her brother Charles. There she met the exile Roger Mortimer and the two began a torrid love affair which ended with their alliance, their invasion to England in her son’s name, the deposition of her husband, and their regency for Edward III.

Marguerite of Anjou was less radical. She did not rebel against her husband, she stuck with him for better or for worse. Instead of replacing him with her son as Isabella had done, Marguerite decided to take the fight to Richard, Duke of York, the Earl of Salisbury, the Earls of March, Rutland, and Warwick. These were their number one enemies and when they forced her husband to sign a treaty where he acknowledged Richard’s right to be King, and made him his heir, passing over his son. Marguerite decided to take up arms against them again. Marguerite ended losing her war. Her son and husband died, ending the Lancastrian dynasty once and for all. There was only one last Lancastrian (although he descended from the Beauforts which were still considered by many illegitimate) and he ended up becoming King in 1485 after he defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field. He was Henry VII and his son Henry VIII was now Jane’s husband. Four days later, Sir John Russell wrote to Lord Lisle that in making Jane his wife, he had made a wise choice for “she is as gentle a lady as ever I knew, and as fair a queen as any in Christendom. The King hath come out of hell into heaven for the gentleness in this and the cursedness and the unhappiness in the other. You would do well to write to the king again that you rejoice he is so well match with so gracious a woman as is reported.”

Jane acted with tact, speaking when she felt was wise, and crossing the line only once when she voiced empathy for the pilgrimage of grace. Jane served two Queens, possibly three if the theory of her serving Princess Mary when she married Louis XII of France is correct; and under them she had seen many things, learned many things. The number one lesson she learned was not to get on Henry’s bad side, not just for her own safety but for her family.

“Could any female subject really give Henry a decisive refusal?” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII

Marriage was like a business contract and it was the goal for many highborn at the time. As with Anne, Jane would have viewed the opportunity of becoming Queen a golden one. As with her predecessor, she was walking a fine thread with no friends in high places like Henry VIII’s first Queen, Katherine of Aragon. Had she said ‘no’ to Henry and genuinely refused all his attentions, Henry would have found someone else to replace Anne and that woman would no doubt be the one slammed instead of Jane.

Sources:

  • Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s true love by Elizabeth Norton
  • Jane Seymour by David Loades
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence.

Who was the real Anne Boleyn? The True White Falcon

Anne Boleyn as played in TV, Film and Documentary.
Anne Boleyn as played in TV, Film and Documentary.

Anne Boleyn has been immortalized by historians, film and TV producers alike as this woman who gave birth to the savior of England (if not the world, according to many), Elizabeth I. While I do not wish to discredit Anne, I think she can stand well on her own without being given importance (uniquely) on the basis of her motherhood. Certainly Elizabeth I ushered in a golden age and is one of the most famous Queens in history, however to say she and her mother were the women who changed the course of global history and ushered in a new era of exploration, and technological advancements and broke the glass ceiling for women is something akin to saying that Sarah Palin is a feminist.

White Falcon Crowned. Anne Boleyn's royal insignia.
White Falcon Crowned. Anne Boleyn’s royal insignia.

Yes, probably I am going to get a lot of slamming from crazy die-hard fans who have never picked more than two Tudor history books. But let us speak history here, not fiction, but history. Was Anne Boleyn a great woman who stood out from all the rest? Yes and No. Yes, because she captured the attention of many notable men, courtiers and the King alike, because of her charm and intellect. And no, because Anne wasn’t the only intellectual courtier or Queen at the time. There were far many more women that were just as astounding that preceded her. In fact, two generations before her was Katherine of Aragon, her mother Isabella I of Castile and her grandmother-in-law, the late Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. Although not a Queen, Margaret Beaufort was known as ‘My Lady the King’s Mother’.
She helped co-found and fund many colleges –some of which still carry her statue and her family’s symbol, the Beaufort porticullis; and she was considered one of the most learned women of her day. She translated many books and her chaplain who was later executed by her grandson Henry VIII, spoke very highly of her. Katherine of Aragon went even further, encouraging women’s education as her mother had done in her native Castile by becoming the patron of many humanist and scholars, most notably Juan Luis Vives whose books on the education of royals, opened up with a dedication for her. Katherine was no doubt influenced by her mother, the indomitable Isabella of Castile who sponsored many women scholars and who had one of them tutor her children. Beatriz de Galindo is the best known of these women scholars and Katherine would have seen her often in her mother’s court, lecturing her older siblings, and translating classical texts into Latin and Spanish. Her mother’s library was one of the most impressive in Western Europe and Isabella wanted her children to take advantage of it, to read as much they could and be given the educational tools that she was not given when she was growing up. Katherine and her sisters received an education similar to princes; and besides classical and religious texts, they also learned canon and civic law. When Katherine became Henry’s Queen, she took advantage of her position to further education, and her influence no doubt reached her ladies. Among them was Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard who briefly served her.

Anne Boleyn learned mostly from experience. Like her predecessor she was highly cultivated her, and unlike her, she got to visit more places and learn from different cultures. Katherine of Aragon was knowledgeable in history, but Anne got to see firsthand these customs she’d been told about or read about. When she came to England, having served one time when she was between 13-14 in the court of Mechelen of Archduchess Margaret of Austira, and another in France (first as maid of honor to Princess Mary Tudor, her future husband’s youngest sister, and then to the new French Queen, Claude Valois) she came back as a highly cultivated young woman who knew what she wanted and was determined to get it.

Anne Boleyn played by Genevive Bujold in "Anne of a Thousand Days" (1969).
Anne Boleyn played by Genevive Bujold in “Anne of a Thousand Days” (1969).

However, and this is where we get to dangerous territory, it is highly improbable that she wanted to be Henry’s Queen from the get go. In most movies, even the ones that are really good, about her, she is shown to be highly ambitious –a woman whose sole purpose was to take revenge on Wolsey for breaking up her engagement to Percy, and take on everyone that stood in her path to become Queen. In “The Tudors” this is the idea, and much as I did like the show, I had to laugh so many times because Anne is shown behaving anything less than what the real Anne behaved in that situation. Her mother is nowhere to be seen, so it must be assumed she is gone or the producers just felt lazy and didn’t want to waste any money paying an actress to take on her role. Her father is cold, calculating, disgusting and her uncle is no better. Thomas Boleyn was none of these things, any more than Anne was a monstrous figure plotting the death of everyone like one of those cartoonish villains you see on a Disney movie. Films and TV shows are done for one purpose and one purpose only: To Entertain. They are not there to educate. I love these TV shows but I take it as something of an alternate universe, or a fantasy, where you have all these characters and situations based on real life people and events, but nothing more.

Anne Boleyn played by Claire Foy in "Wolf Hall" (2015)
Anne Boleyn played by Claire Foy in “Wolf Hall” (2015)

We have to be very careful taking these shows to heart. In Wolf Hall, there is another interpretation to Anne, that is not that different. She is shown as a completely horrible person who has no other interest but to get herself rich and with male child so she can keep her crown. We do not see as we did see in other period pieces –even the Tudors- her interest in religion, or the commons, or her squabble with Cromwell over the misuse of the money gotten from the dissolution of the monasteries. Money which Anne wanted to go to charity, and be used for educational purposes as her predecessor had done. Cromwell on the other hand was eager to please the King and he knew that displeasing him would cost him his life, so he said no to her demands which in turn made her angry. This was an age where the King could not be directly blamed for his actions. If he was doing things that people did not agree on, then they would blame someone else for his actions. Cromwell got to be the target. Anne, being a religious woman, believed that it was time to start investing money on education to advance religious reform. From her point of view it was not Henry who was her enemy, but Cromwell who was misleading him and needed to be scared or done away with. She told her almoner John Skip to give a sermon preaching on Haman, the biblical arch-enemy of the glorious and devoted Queen Consort Esther who like Anne was just looking out for her people. When everyone heard the sermon, Cromwell did not miss the meaning of her message. He was next if she did not do his bidding.

Anne Boleyn played by Charlotte Rampling in "Henry VIII and his Six Wives" (1972).
Anne Boleyn played by Charlotte Rampling in “Henry VIII and his Six Wives” (1972).

Anne was ambitious, of this, there was no doubt. But she probably did not intend to be Queen in the first place. At the time it was known that Henry was probably thinking of divorcing his wife of many years because she had been unable to give him the son he wanted to secure the Tudor dynasty. But nobody would have thought he would end up with Anne. Her sister had been his mistress and Anne learned a lot from that experience, as well as being lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon. She heard and saw many dalliances and the consequences suffered because of them. There were many behavioral manuals (for women) at the time that spoke against women being led astray by men or their emotions. Anne was an avid reader, given her religious convictions, it is highly possible she had some of these manuals with her. Besides that, Anne like so many young women at the time, was looking for an advantageous marriage. Marriage was the key goal after all and the higher you married, the higher you and your family prospered. She wished to marry Henry Percy and that union never came to be because Wolsey broke it. And with good reason. At the time, he and the King were discussing with Thomas Boleyn to use Anne as a bargaining tool. To marry her to the Butler heir so she would secure the Ireland’s loyalty. That union never came to be and once again, Anne was in a political limbo like her predecessor had been; waiting in vain to be married.

Henry VIII (Richard Burton) and Anne Boleyn (Genevive Bujold) in "Anne of a Thousand Days".
Henry VIII (Richard Burton) and Anne Boleyn (Genevive Bujold) in “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

When Henry noticed her, she was probably looking for the next man who could become her next husband. Henry’s attentions changed everything. He wanted her to be his next mistress and Anne refused outright. She was not going to have her reputation in shambles because of this. But Henry was persistent. And you could not say no to the King. His letters do not speak of love any more than Christian Grey from fifty shades of Grey. Henry VIII was a king who was used to getting his own way, when he didn’t, he would lose his temper and for the first time here was a woman who was saying ‘no’ to him, who was writing to him saying she was not worthy and that he should not continue to write her. Instead of doing the mature thing and let her be, Henry continued to pursue her. Sending her more letters which some of them included little hearts drawn at the end of his signature so she could take his ‘love’ for her seriously. It got to a point where Anne finally realized that this was not going to go away. Henry was going to get what he wanted and if she continued to refuse him, then he would get angry and the angrier he got, the less prospects she would get. After all, who would be dumb enough to marry the woman the King was after? Eh … no one! And then there was her family. Her family would be cast out from court, and her father’s honors would be taken away.

It’s a cruel way to look at things. But it is the way things were back then, and with these limited options, Anne opted for the better of two evils. As the King’s wife she reasoned, she would have honors bestowed on her family; her niece and nephew could marry into great family, not to mention that her offspring could be the next King of England. It was a glorious prospect except for one thing … Katherine.

Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII's first Consort. He sought to annul his marriage to her under the pretext that her first marriage to his brother Prince Arthur of Wales was consummated (though she maintained it never was).
Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII’s first Consort. He sought to annul his marriage to her under the pretext that her first marriage to his brother Prince Arthur of Wales was consummated (though she maintained it never was).

Katherine was still his Queen. Anne counted on the pope giving him his divorce since Henry had been in high favor with the church since he wrote against Martin Luther which earned him the title “Defender of the Faith”. But Katherine’s nephew just happened to be the most powerful man in Europe and his soldiers ransacked the Vatican and took the pope prisoner. Charles, being the good politician that he was, claimed he had nothing to do with what his rogue soldiers did, but nonetheless took advantage of the situation by keeping the pope under house arrest under the guise that it was for his own ‘safety’. Because of this Anne had to wait over six years to become Queen of England. It is no surprise that during the course of this time, she grew frustrated. She directed her anger towards Katherine whom she spoke of with malice and scorn. When she heard her name, she claimed she felt nothing for her and that she would love to see her hanged rather than acknowledge her as her mistress.

She would regret her words years later when she would be the one in the same position as her late rival, and not only that, but facing a worse fate that her.

But when Anne realized it was time to show Henry what she really believed in, knowing this would benefit them both, she got her long wish and married him in January 1533. She was pregnant at the time and believing she was carrying the next King of England, made sure her joy was known. Henry wasted no time to crown her five months later in June. But to disappointment of many, when her child was born it turned out to be a girl. Henry showed no regret, but said in that same tone of voice he said to his predecessor that if they had a healthy girl, they will have a healthy son.

Anne Boleyn in the BBC documentary "The Last Days of Anne Boleyn".
Anne Boleyn in the BBC documentary “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn”.

For almost three years, Anne struggled in her position. Getting to the top was harder, staying there was even harder. The people did not like her, the Catholic fiction considered her a whore and though she was nothing more than an opportunist. And it didn’t help that her stepdaughter did not wish to acknowledge her as her father’s wife. Anne said to her aunt that she should box the Lady Mary’s ears if she continued rebelling against her, and refusing to acknowledge her bastard status and that she (Anne) was the true Queen of England. Anne did not get her wish. Doing this, would have made her more hated amongst the Catholics. Executions abounded during this period and the dissolution of the monasteries was just beginning. And yet, despite all this scorn we hear from Anne, we also hear some positive attitudes. As a deeply religious person, who took refuge in the faith she helped create, she encouraged her servants, including her ladies in waiting, to read from the English bible she kept on her chambers. And she gave alms to the poor and continued to push Cromwell to see that the money begotten from the dissolution of the monasteries be used for education and charity. The latter didn’t happen and when Henry grew tired of her, and she was unable to give him another son (her last miscarriage was in January 1536); he told Cromwell to get rid of her by any means necessary. No time was wasted. People were interrogated, threatened and it has been suspected that some were even tortured, to give them the kind of information they were looking for to condemn her.

The charges against her though, adultery, treason and incest, were so bogus that even the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys; scoffed at them. He told his master, Charles V, that it was ridiculous that she, her brother and the other four men accused of adultery, could be convicted under such bogus charges.

Anne was enraged at the charges, but she kept her dignity. She and her brother defended themselves well and walked to the scaffold to meet their fates, with little fear. Her brother, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton, and Francis Weston were the first ones two go. Two days later on the nineteenth of May, 1536, it was Anne’s turn. Her speech was one which moved entire crowds to their knees and as she asked them to pray for her when it was her turn to kneel; they did. In one stroke, it was all over.

Twenty two years later her daughter, rises to the throne becoming one of the icons of her century. Since then the two have been immortalized, romanticized, but just who were they really? Are they who we want them to be because we are so desperate for heroines in today’s bleak world where we see so many problems in our society that we look back at the past with melancholy, wishing that it was like those times? Or is it because we don’t want to accept the truth, that the past was more brutal than today’s world, and that it was an alien world with morals, prejudices, and other attitudes which are so appalling to us now that if we accept that these existed, they will shatter the illusion we have over these women, especially the great icon, Anne Boleyn?

Is it not possible though, that we come to maintain our love for Anne Boleyn by accepting that she was a person of her time with the same prejudices as everyone else, and one who was determined, ambitious, religious and at times compassionate, and someone who can stand out on her own by all her other merits that have already been mentioned, without resorting to exaggeration?

Hever Portrait.

I leave that answer to you.

Sources:

  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Henry VIII by Derek Wilson
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn: The White Falcon’s Last Flight

Anne Boleyn as played by two great actresses, Natalie Dormer and Genevive Bujold in
Anne Boleyn as played by two great actresses, Natalie Dormer and Genevive Bujold in “The Tudors” and “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

On the 19th of May, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed. Anne Boleyn was the first Queen of England (or former if you want to get technical) to be executed.   Her execution was originally set on the eighteenth but it was postponed. Anne was deeply distraught. According to Kingston, the Captain of the guard, she would after be laughing and joking about her own mortality. And at other times she was jovial, engaging in conversation with her aunt, and the other women around her, including his wife. But on that morning of May nineteenth, Anne walked to the scaffold where she was immortalized by her next speech:

Anne Boleyn's execution in
Anne Boleyn’s execution in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (1970) where she was played by Dorothy Tutin

“Good Christian people,
I am come hither to die,
for according to the law
and by the law I am judged to die,
and therefore I will speak nothing against it.
I am come hither to accuse no man,
nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die,
but I pray God save the king
and send him long to reign over you,
for a gentler nor more merciful prince was there never:
and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and sovereign lord.
And if any person will meddle of my cause,
I require them to judge the best.
And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all,
and I heartily desire you all pray for me.
Oh Lord have mercy on me,
to God I commend my soul.”

Her words were fully remembered and recorded and they moved the crowd, who despite (some of them) their dislike for this maligned Queen, they knelt and did as she asked them to, pray for her.

Then she gave a pouch of money to her executioner –provided to her by Henry- and knelt, bracing herself for what was coming next. In one stroke, it was all over. Anne Boleyn was no more.

Some historians like Leanda de Lisle argue about the method of execution. Why did Henry VIII use a sword instead of an axe? Anne was afraid of fire and rightly so. Henry VIII saw himself as a cavalier, a knight in shining armor if you will. In his view death by the sword served the purpose to show that he was the purveyor of justice and the sword was also a symbol of Camelot, of righteousness and Henry always saw himself as the great purveyor of justice. Against what is shown on film and TV, there was nothing absolutely romantic about her end, it was tragic, it was sad, it was unfortunate. Period. And the sword was Henry’s long-stand view that nothing was wrong with this kingdom, and that justice had prevailed once more.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Anne Boleyn: A Life by Eric Ives

George Boleyn’s Farewell

George Boleyn (played by Padriac Delany in
George Boleyn (played by Padriac Delany in “The Tudors”).

On the 17th of May 1536, George Boleyn and the other four men accused of adultery with the former Queen, Anne Boleyn, were beheaded. George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, and Sir Francis Weston were brought together to Tower Hill, to be executed.

“Henry had been so convinced that the public spectators would be gratified by the deaths of these traitors that he had ordered the scaffold to be built especially high so as to give everyone in the crowd a good view.” –Ridgway & Cherry.

Henry and the officials who were to be disappointed. In spite of Anne’s unpopularity, the people were not happy with the outcome of the trial. Many sensed something was amiss; not to mention that Lord Rochford and Norris were respected courtiers, and their charisma was well thought of when they saw them kneel down, putting their heads on the block, to meet their ends (especially George whose career as it has previously been discussed on this site, was remarkable –barely missing any council meetings and parliamentary sessions, and taking his job as an ambassador very seriously, not to mention that like his sister, he was a natural charmer).

Unlike Anne Boleyn who would die two days later, they died by the axe. Little is known about George’s speech but some of the people who knew him best wrote about it later, and accounts by those who remembered his speech recorded it decades later. Thomas Wyatt, one of men arrested with George Boleyn, got out free and years after his friend’s execution wrote a beautiful poem commemorating his death.

“Christian men, I was born under the law,
and I die under the law
for as much as it is the law which has condemned me.
Masters all, I have not come here to preach but to die
for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives,
more shamefully that can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully.
I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse my sins openly,  it were no pleasure to you to hear them,
nor yet for me to rehearse them, for God knoweth all.
Therefore, masters all, I pray you take heed by me,
and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court, the which I have been among,
take heed by me and beware of such a fall,
and I pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost
three persons and one God,
that my death may be an example unto you all.
And beware, trust not in the vanity of the world,
and especially in the flattering of the court.
And I cry God mercy, and ask all the world forgiveness of God.
And if I have offended any man that is here now,
either in thought, word or deed,  and if ye hear any such,
I pray you heartily in my behalf,
pray them to forgive me for God’s sake.
And yet, my masters all, I have one thing for to say to you:
Men do moon and say that I have been a setter forth of the Word of God, and one that have favored
the Gospel of Christ;
and because I would not that God’s word should be slandered by me,
I say unto you all, that if I had followed God’s word
in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power,
I had not come to this.
If I had, I had been a living man among you.
Therefore I pray you, masters all,
for God’s sake stick to the truth and follow it,
for one good follower is worth three readers, as God knoweth.” –George Boleyn’s execution speech according to the Chronicle of Calais.

Eustsace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador has him saying that he had been “contaminated” and had been “contaminating others with the new sects”. We don’t know if what Chapuys said was true because he wasn’t there but unlike what has been written about him, he was one of the most reliable foreign sources, and he did respect George on a level that he seldom had for any other English courtier, and his dispatches to the Emperor days later after Anne Boleyn’s execution demonstrates how he was capable of showing deep admiration for his enemies.

There is a reason why his speech was so impassioned and it was because as so many other men condemned to death, conscious that they were guilty or not guilty, they had to make their last moments on earth remarkable, worthy to be remembered. This was a highly religious era, and Henry had done something unprecedented, he had declared himself Head of the Church, his own church which made him in many of his people’s eyes, the representative of God on Earth. Which also made him infallible and those who opposed him were no longer committing acts of treason, but sins against God. It sounds far out but that is how it would have been viewed back then, especially by Henry (who being a deeply religious man, was convinced what his conscience and God’s will were one and the same).
In the view of Henry’s new Church –which the Boleyns had helped build when Anne encouraged Henry to read ‘forbidden’ books that gave him an alternative to waiting for a papal decision on his desired divorce with Katherine- George had not only committed treason against his sovereign, but against God as well. Therefore, before he put his head on the block, he addressed the crowds one more time and begged them to pray for him, to pray for his comrades, and although he didn’t ask for their forgiveness (perhaps a silent act of rebellion, knowing in his heart of hearts that he was innocent of the charges laid against him, and George being a highly religious man himself, could not admit to something he had not done, but the sins he spoke of –if Chapuys is to believed- could have been something else such as adultery with somebody else which might have hurt his wife, Jane Parker, or an arrogance that he had often been accused by his contemporary and later detractors) he went on to emphasize his religious and kingly devotion, ending his speech with “God Save the King.” The rest as they say is history.

“These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, y youth did them depart, And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.
The Bell Tower showed me such a sight
That in my head sticks day and night. There I did learn out of a greater,
For all fair, glory, or might,
That yet, circa Regna tonat.”

Thomas Wyatt wrote this poem during his time in prison never forgetting this event and the people behind it.

Sources:

  • George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo
  • Inside the Tudor Court of Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writing of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir

14th-15th May: The Beginning of the End

Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn from the BBC documentary
Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn from the BBC documentary “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” and Showtime’s “The Tudors”.

On the 14th of May 1536, Henry declared his marriage to Anne Boleyn null and void which meant that she could no longer be accused of adultery since she had never been Henry’s wife. But this was Henry VIII. He wanted Anne gone, and it didn’t matter what legal mumbo-jumbo his muscle team had to conjure to get it done. There was also another reason why he wanted Anne done away with. He didn’t want another repeat of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine of Aragon as everyone knows was the wife he couldn’t divorce and annul his marriage to, from the Catholic Church’s perspective. And through that perspective, he was never legally married to Anne because Katherine was still alive, making his union with Anne invalid and their daughter a bastard. If he was to get a son from Jane Seymour, he had to make sure that there was no dispute (whatsoever) of his legitimacy. Therefore, the easiest solution as the priest tells you at the altar, “until death do us part”, was to kill Anne. But Henry was no murdered, he was a gallant chevalier who took after King Arthur. In his view, as Leanda de Lisle has argued, he was a man who was the purveyor of justice and the perfect embodiment of chivalry. Anne Boleyn as well as her alleged lovers’ executions had to come through legal means, and her execution (by a sword) was yet another representation of his chivalric ideals.

The day after her marriage was declared null and void, the trial against her and brother began.

“Her brother defied the charges and daringly read out the note he had been requested to keep secret, that Anne and Jane Parker had allegedly discussed the King’s inability in the bedroom, claiming he lacked ‘vertu’ and ‘puissance’, or ability and power.” –Licence

Although he never said that he agreed with what was written or that he believed the note was genuinely theirs, the simple fact that he had defied the order not to read it, was considered treasonous and a mockery against the King.

Anne Boleyn on trial played by Genevive Bujold in the movie
Anne Boleyn on trial played by Genevive Bujold in the movie “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

According to the Tudor chronicler Wriothesley, Anne composed herself during the trial and made “answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been fault of the same”. As for George, he also knew that he wasn’t going to get out of this alive. He had shadowed his father and uncle for many years, impressed the Imperial Ambassador for his brilliance and courteous behavior towards him; he had seen much of the two of the greatest courts in Europe, and with his sister being Queen, he had been a witness to many key events. He was realistic, pragmatic. And from the moment he had been arrested, he was aware that no one was going to get out of this alive or without their reputations dragged through the mud. Wriothesley added that he spoke “so prudently and wisely to all articles laid against him, that marvel it was to hear, and never would confess to anything but made himself as clear as though he had never offended.” Others were of the same opinion, including the Imperial Ambassador who wrote back to his master, telling him that the charges were so ridiculous that he was astonished that they were being taken seriously.

“No proof of George’s guilt was produced except that of his having once passed many hours in her company, and other little follies.” –Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador

As for Anne, once again ignoring the legal obvious that she could not be charged with something, since she had never been legally married to the King, according to the King himself; she was charged with twenty acts of adultery, three which were incest with her brother George and she was found guilty. The verdict was read aloud by none other than her first romantic interest, Henry Percy, who collapsed afterwards and had to be dragged out from the room for fear that he would get worse.

AnneBoleynInTheTower-278x300

Anne’s fate was officially sealed. Anne would die four days later on May 19th, the other men -including her brother- two days before that.

Sources

  • Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • George Boleyn, Poet, Courtier, Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser