On the 6th of January 1540, Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves at the Queen’s Closet in Greenwich in a ceremony officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. The date also fell on the feast of the Epiphany which marked the end of the twelve days of Christmas celebrations. In spite of Henry’s earlier protests that he would not marry the Princess of Cleves because “I like her not”; Cromwell convinced him of otherwise, reminding him of his agreement with her brother, the Duke of Cleves and given the current alliance between the Emperor and the King of France, his union with Anne would prove beneficial.
Henry VIII is a man who has been judged harshly by history, most fiction writers who portray him as a petulant child trapped in a man’s body. Henry VIII did become somewhat of a tyrant later in life, but this image is a huge contrast to the one presented to us by Lord Mountjoy, the Venetian Ambassador and finally his mentor and (once) friend, the late Sir Thomas More in his early years. On his ascension in June of 1509, these three commented that this new King was marvelous to behold because he didn’t care for jewels or any other material gain, but instead wanted to achieve immortality through his feats. Thomas Moore also commented on his scholarship, adding that his wife’s beauty and intellect also highlighted his appeal. As Henry got older he became paranoid and harder to please.
This was the Henry that Anne married, coincidentally on the same room he had married her predecessor who died days after giving birth to his only legitimate heir, Prince Edward, Jane Seymour.
Anne chose for her motto “God send me well to keep” and was richly dressed as the day of her official reception at the palace three days prior.
“On her head she wore a coronet of gold set with jewels and decorated with sprigs of rosemary, a common medieval wedding custom that signified love and loyalty. With the most “demure countenance” she passed through the king’s chamber into the gallery, and closet, where she greeted her future spouse with three curtseys. His heart might not have been in it, but Henry had at least dressed the part.” (Licence)
Indeed he was. Wearing a gown of cloth of gold with silver flowers, black fur and a coat of crimson, Henry reluctantly agreed to take Anne as his wife, placing the ring on her finger which had her motto engraved on it.
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
On the third of January 1540, the date set for Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII’s first encounter was spoiled by their earlier and much unexpected encounter (at least for Anne) on New Year’s day at the Bishop’s Palace at Rochester. Anne had no idea that the King would be coming, and much less that he would be accompanied by a handful of courtiers playing the part of Robin Hood and his band of merry men. The meeting as we can all recall, went disastrously wrong when Anne rejected his advances. With no knowledge of the king’s love of games, or the art of courtly love, Henry grew disenchanted with his foreign bride and despite her best attempts to make it up by engaging in idle chatter, the King lost all enthusiasm for her.
It was only by some miracle –thanks in part to Cromwell, reminding him of his promise to marry her- that he agreed to go ahead with the betrothal. Two days after that disastrous meeting, Anne traveled to London, arriving at Shooter’s Hill, two miles outside of Greenwich. At midday she made her entrance to the Palace where she was welcomed by the King’s court. Doctor Day who had been appointed as her almoner gave her a welcome speech in Latin. He was followed by the King’s nieces and former daughter-in-law, Ladies Margaret Douglas, Frances Brandon, Mary Howard as well as other “ladies and gentlewomen to the number of sixty five” who “welcomed her and led her into a gorgeous tent or pavilion of rich cloth of gold that had been set up for at the foot of the hill, in which fires burned and perfumes scented the air.” They dressed her in a new gown which was also in the Dutch fashion, and added a new headdress and jewelry then helped her into her horse which was “richly trapped”. As the people caught sight of Anne, they would have largely commented on her fashions which would have seemed to strange to them as Henry’s first Queen’s Spanish ones would have seemed strange to their fathers and grandfathers two generations before when she made her grand entrance to London in November of 1501.
The French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac says that Anne “was clothed in the fashion of the country from which she came” as well as her ladies which made her look “strange to many.” He also adds that he doesn’t find any of them (including the future Queen) beautiful and “not so young as was expected, nor so beautiful as everyone affirmed.”
Some can take this as proof that the myths surrounding Anne’s appearance but we have to remember that Marillac had an agenda and although the second portrait of Anne had Holbein paint over her elongated nose, by no means it adds credibility to those absurd rumors. At the time of Henry’s betrothal, Spain and France had formed an alliance and to avoid complete isolation, Cromwell devised an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League that could help them offset the balance.
Naturally, Marillac was not going to look well on this union.
Fast forward to a year later, the same date (January 3rd), Anne and Henry met once again. This time as brother and sister (having received the title of the King’s sister along with various states after their marriage was annulled) at Hampton Court Palace, exchanging gifts with his new queen, her former lady in waiting, Katherine Howard.
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
On New Year’s Day 1540, Henry VIII decided to surprise Anne of Cleves, dressed as Robin Hood with his band of merry men. Henry had always been a lover of chivalry and had pulled similar stunts throughout his entire life, especially in his young life with his foreign queen, Katherine of Aragon. This was no different, but Anne who had a strict upbringing was totally unaware of these kinds of antics and when Henry approached her and asked to give her a kiss, she was (unsurprisingly) alarmed and insulted and rebuffed him.
Prior to moving to the Bishop’s Palace on Rochester, Anne had arrived at Deal on Kent, from there she went on a small tour, greeting many officials including the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, Charles and Catherine Brandon. Anne had asked some of the English courtiers to explain to her various English customs, such as how to sit during a meal, and the different kinds of card games. But this was another thing entirely, and most importantly it was unexpected.
Anne knew she was supposed to meet her husband, and given what had happened to his previous wives, she was probably aware of his reputation. But she was taken by surprise by his sudden arrival. Officials had told her that she and the King would meet when she reached Greenwich on the third of January, in two days time. She was standing near a window, watching a bullfight when the King and his men burst in.
When he revealed who he was, Anne was deeply embarrassed and tried to apologize and engage in idle chatter but the damage was already done. After this, it was pretty much decided that things would not go as planned, or as Cromwell planned them.
Much has been said about Anne’s appearance from this meeting. Some historians still buy into the myth that she was ugly, and much of this stems from the apocryphal story that Henry swore he was being forced to marry a “Flanders’ mare” but this tale doesn’t come until much later and is much a secondary source as anything else that says something similar.
As soon as Henry was given her portrait and began to have doubts about this alliance, Cromwell would try to regain his interest by continuously praising the appearance of a woman neither of them had met yet, and saying how she was the epitome of beauty. Cromwell knew that he was playing with fire, but he was so sure of his position and the influence he had over the King (as his previous master once had) that he didn’t think about the dangerous possibility of the King’s possible dislike of her once he met her, or her ignorance regarding the king’s antics.
X-Rays from one of her portraits have revealed a longer nose which Holbein covered up in an effort to make her more attractive for the king. And notice what I say here, more attractive for the King. Henry VIII was an extremely vain man who was attracted to anything that was good to look at because as King, he had to have the best of the best. But he was also deeply obsessed with his manliness, and as such, the thought of somebody refusing him, wounded his male pride. And not surprisingly, this became more important to him than the Cleves alliance or his other need, to give the kingdom a much needed Duke of York to secure the Tudor Dynasty.
The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman
Anne of Cleves had set sail for England on the winter of 1539, arriving on Calais on December 11th and staying at the Exchequer Palace. She was the third of Henry’s Queens to have stayed there (the other two were Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn). Sixteen days later, she arrived at Deal in Kent. From there she would set off to Rochester and then to London where she would meet the King on the third of January but the King was anxious to meet his new bride so he rode with a handful of gentlemen to see her.
While Anne was at Dover, she received a generous reception at Deal Castle and Dover Castle. At Dover Castle she met with Charles Brandon and his wife, Catherine Willoughby, the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. She then headed to Canterbury and St. Augustine’s Abbey (which had been converted into a royal palace after the dissolution of the monasteries) where she stayed before moving to the Bishop’s Palace at Rochester.
Anne showed a lot of excite and “was so glad to see the king’s subjects resorting so lovingly to her that she forgot all the foul weather and was very merry at supper.”
It’s a shame that the same can’t be said about her meeting with Henry on New Year. He and his fellow courtiers disguised as bandits. He had done this with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. His first three wives were used to do this. Katherine had grown in Spain where she was used to tales of chivalry, to plays, and such playful behavior, and was as well-educate as both her spouses. Anne Boleyn had traveled abroad and served illustrious mistresses and as such, was also used to this kind of behavior. Jane might not have been bookish as her predecessors, but being in their services she had learned many things and grew accustomed to court life. The same can’t be said for Anne. She had lived a very sheltered life where her education consisted mostly of domestic arts. She understood royal protocol and courtly etiquette but that was about it.
“Fired by desire, he decided to waylay her, as he had done to Catherine in the Robin Hood impersonations of his youth. It was a silly idea for a man of his age and dignity, and it went disastrously wrong.” (Loades)
When Henry surprised her by barging in her rooms, Anne didn’t know who he was or what his intentions where and when he tried to kiss her, she was naturally frightened and pushed the stranger away and spoke strong words against him. This clearly stung. After he came back, Anne realized her mistake and tried to make things better by engaging in idle chapter but the damage was already done.
Henry nonetheless went ahead with the betrothal marrying her that January and true to his nature when he didn’t like something and found something new and more appealing, annulled his marriage six months later. Unlike her foreign predecessor, Anne did not die alone in an abandoned castle for refusing Henry’s generous settlement but his minister did and on the day he was executed, he married his fifth wife who had been Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Katherine Howard.
Anne of Cleves is one of two wives to survive him and the only one to be buried at Westminster Abbey.
On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
On Sunday, the 1st of October, Mary Tudor was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. She was the first female King in English history. Her day began early when she departed from the Tower of London, she was accompanied by her ladies and other nobles. As before, there were elements that were identified with the coronation for queen consorts, but also others that were of Kings. Instead of riding a litter as queen consorts had done, she chose to walk barefoot to the Abbey. She dressed splendidly for the occasion, wearing “parliament robes of crimson velvet under a rich canopy borne by the five barons of the cinque ports” in addition to having her hair loose with a circlet of gold around her head.
Following her were her ladies and gentlemen (by two) which included knights, aldermen, the French and Latin secretaries, councilors, the knights of the Garter, and those carrying the three swords which represented Spiritual and Temporal Justice, and Mercy. The sword of state was carried by Edward Courtenay (who’d recently been ennobled as the Earl of Devonshire), the Duke of Norfolk carried the crown, the Marques of Winchester carried the orb, and finally the Earl of Arundel carried the scepter. Mary’s train was carried by the Duchess of Norfolk who was assisted by Sir John Gage. Behind her were her sister and stepmother, the ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves.
When she reached the Abbey, she would not have been surprised to find it decorated with heraldic symbols and popular Tudor images. The pulpit was covered in rest worsted, with the porch of Westminster Hall decorated with blue cloth. In addition, there was the royal chair which was covered in damask gold with the three lions and the fleur-de-lis representing the crowns of England and France –the latter which England still lay claim too and enabled Mary to add to her title of Queen of France as well.
Stephen Gardiner then turned to the crowds and gave the following announcement: “Sirs, here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the laws of God and man the crown and royal dignity of this real of England, France, Ireland, where upon you shall understand that this day is appointed by all the Peers of this land for the consecration, inunction and coronation of the said most excellent Princess Mary; will you serve at this time, and give your wills and assent to the same consecration, inunction, and coronation?”
To which everyone shouted “joyfully Yea, yea,” followed by “God save Queen Mary!”
Mary then made an offering to the altar and following with ancient tradition, she prostrated herself before it on cushions while prayers were being said for her. Then she rose and listened to the sermon from the Bishop of Chichester which had to do with obeisance to kings.
Then came the moment of truth. The moment that Mary had anxiously been waiting –and preparing- for all her life. The actual coronation. Still lying before the altar, she took the sacrament and said her oaths, and listened to the rest of the prayers. Then she went behind a screen at the left of the altar to make her first change of clothing. She was helped by some of her ladies. After she emerged she was anointed with the holy oils (by Gardiner) on her breasts, shoulders and forehead.
“Because so much depended on her anointing Mary had taken special care to ensure the validity of the ritual. She feared that the oils to be found in England were tainted as a result of the ecclesiastical censures brought against the nation by the pope many years earlier.” (Erickson)
This is true. Mary went above and beyond to make sure everything was perfect. So the oils were brought from Flanders. Judith M. Richards in her journal article about “Gendering the Tudor Monarchy” about Mary Tudor, discusses a lot of the issues regarding the first Queen of England’s coronation. Mary wanted to present herself as more than just a King, she wanted people to perceive her as both a woman and a king. Elizabeth would follow this model many years later when she addressed the troops at Tilbury in 1588 when she was at war with Spain. England never had a queen, and the concept of a female monarch was still very alien to many, even those that accepted Mary. So she had to thread very carefully. And one way she could be accepted without eliciting much criticism was by presenting herself as the paragon of virtue and morality (wearing her hair down and with a circlet as queen consorts traditionally wore) while at the same time, showing herself as ordained by god like monarchs before her. So here was a woman who was took the role of mother and guardian of her country, but also as an enforcer. And she made sure that people remembered this glorious day by having pamphlets be printed and distributed across Europe. (Not for nothing, her sister would take on the same roles, when on the eve of her coronation she would be compared to biblical figures like Esther and Deborah who were famous for upholding the moral values and preserving their people’s faith).
With a canopy being held over her head, she was given privacy to change back into her velvet robes. She then sat on the royal chair and was given the spurs and swords, had the ring placed on her finger then had the crown of Edward the Confessor placed on her head, followed by the Imperial crown and then another crown that was especially made for her.
Her subjects, including Gardiner and some of the courtiers that had carried the canopy and the heraldic symbols for her, knelt before their new monarch and swore their allegiance to her. With the ceremony at an end the Te Deums being sung, Mary made her final offering to the Abbey (still carrying the orb and the two scepters of king and queen in her two hands) before departing for the state dinner that awaited her at Westminster Hall.
Feeling triumphant, Mary didn’t let the exhaustion win her over. Her sister and her stepmother were her guests of honor, seated next to her, basking in the attention and enjoying the spectacle that was being played out before them. There were some (like Renard) who didn’t like the Queen trusting Elizabeth with such honors, but Mary didn’t pay any attention to them. She was after all the daughter of a King and now the sister to the Queen, and she and her stepmother were awarded the highest positions that any man or woman could wish for. No other lady sat next to the queen or rode in a chariot that outranked the others. But there was a big difference between the sisters that Mary wouldn’t find out (or admit to it) until much later when the two became bitter rivals. For now though, she had no cause to worry. This was her moment and as far as she was concerned, it was meant to last.
The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
Mary Tudor by David Loades
Gendering the Tudor Monarchy: Mary Tudor as ‘sole queene’ by Judith M. Richards/Journal article
On July the 28th 1540, Thomas Cromwell was executed at Tower Hill. He was one of Henry’s most devoted servants and yet he, like so many others, met the same end. One day before his death, he was visited by the archbishop of Canterbury [Thomas Cranmer] and Seymour to inform him of his death-sentence. Seymour added that “it was God’s will that you should live no longer. It seems you have learned well from the Cardinal.”
The reason for his imprisonment had been the King’s fourth marriage, a disastrous union which he did his best to make it better, but failed. And not only that, Cromwell had exaggerated on Anne’s grace and beauty, not to mention that he was doing a lot of things outside the King’s knowledge, and his Reformist tendencies outraged many Catholics, as well as his imposition over every noble family (regardless of their faith). When Cromwell was arrested on June the Tenth of that year, he tried to free himself from his captors, by imploring the council to remember all that he had done, and the power he had wielded, but his eloquence wasn’t enough to cause fear or doubt on any of them. His time had passed, and he knew it. Two weeks later, the marriage he had helped create, was annulled. Anne consented with the decree and wrote a letter of submission to the king, telling him that “though this case be most hard and sorrowful for me, for the great love which I bear your most noble person, yet having more regard to God and his truth, than to any worldly affection, I acknowledge myself hereby to accept the proof of the same.” She went on to repeat herself when she wrote to her brother later that month. She was later referred to as the King’s Sister and given expensive properties, making her one of the richest women in England.
Cromwell beseeched the King, writing to him, that he had been his most loyal servant, and everything he had done, had done it to serve the crown at the best of his knowledge. Yet Henry did with him as he did with all the other people he had put to death whenever they wrote or pleaded with him to save them; he ignored him. Stripped of all his titles and privileges he was condemned to die at Tower Hill instead of Tower Green which was usually reserved for the high-born. The message could not be clearer: As he had born to nothing, he would die being nothing.
On the way to the block, he met with the deranged Lord Hungerford, a former protégé of his, whose crime had been harboring a member from the pilgrimage of Grace, his wife had appealed to Cromwell but Cromwell, being loyal to the king, did nothing to help his old friend. Now in an ironic twist of fate, the two were to die on the same day. Cromwell, feeling sorry for him, tried to comfort him by saying “there is no cause for you to fear. If you repent and be heartily sorry for what you have done, there is for you mercy from the Lord, who for Christ’s sake, will forgive you.” But his words did little to comfort him. As Thomas Cromwell walked to the platform, he addressed the crowds:
“Good people, I have come here to die and not to purge myself, as some may think that I will. For if I should do so, I would be a wretch and a miser, a miserable man. I am by the law condemned to die and thank my Lord God that has appointed me this death for my offence. For since the time that I have had years of discretion, I have lived as a sinner and have offended my Lord God, for which I ask Him heartily for forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you that I have been a great traveler in the world but being of a base degree, was called to high state … Since the time I came there unto, I have offended my prince, for which I also ask him for hearty amnesty. I beseech you all to pray to God with me that he will forgive me. Oh father, forgive me; Oh Son, forgive me; Oh Holy Ghost, forgive me; Oh three Persons and one God, forgive me.”
Then to dispel the rumors that he was a Lutheran, he added:
“And now I pray you that be here, to bear record that I die in the Catholic faith, not doubting any article of my faith nor doubting any sacrament of the church. Many have slandered me and reported that I have been a bearer of those who have maintained evil opinions, which is untrue. But I confess that as God, by His Holy Spirit, instructs us in the truth, so the devil is ready to seduce us- and I have been seduced. Bear witness that I die in the Catholic faith of the Holy Church. I heartily desire you to pray for the King’s grace and that he may long live with you in health and prosperity and after him, that his son, Prince Edward, that goodly imp, may long reign over you. And once again, I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remains in this flesh, I waver nothing in my faith.”
This last confession was probably done to save his reputation, which he knew would be stained by the nobles. And reputation, even for dead men, was everything. If not for himself, then for his descendants, namely Gregory. He did not wish his bad name to stain the reputation of his son and family. Though some might judge him as a hypocrite and an opportunist, let us remember that everyone was a pragmatist (one way or another) back then. Cromwell played the game very well, more than any other player, but like his predecessor, he had flaws, and his belief that he was so secure that he could do whatever he wanted (including exaggerating on Anne of Cleves’ beauty and grace, to get the King into an alliance that would benefit his faith and increase his power) as well as the nobles’ envy of seeing a nobody rise to such a position of power, caused his demise.
Finally, kneeling down to meet his ultimate fate, he prayed: “Oh Lord, grant me that when these eyes lose their use, that the eyes of my soul may see Thee. Oh Lord and father, when this mouth shall lose his use that my heart may say ‘O Pater, in mamus tuas commendo spiritum meum’” the asked the people to pray for the king, his son “and for all the lords of the council and for the clergy and for the commonalty. Now I beg you again that you will pray for me.” Spotting Thomas Wyatt the Elder, he called out to him, asking him to pray for him as well and told him not to weep “for if I were not more guilty than you were when they took you, I should not be in this pass.” He lastly turned to the executioner begging him “to cut off the head with one blow, so that I may not suffer.” Sadly, this was not to be.
His executioner, described as a “ragged and butcherly wretch”, delivered various blows to his skull and neck before he finally severed his head. While some despaired, others rejoiced. Henry Howard, the son and heir of the Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of the Queen-to-be, said of Cromwell that “the false churl is dead … Now he is stricken with his own staff.” Cromwell’s headless body was buried at the church of St Peter ad Vincula, the same place where Anne Boleyn was buried. His head was stuck on a pole on top of London’s bridge. On that same day, Henry VIII married Katherine Howard.
Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Boarman
This is a book I have been meaning to review for a while but never had gotten around doing it until now that I have some free time. I read this book when it first came out. I …was looking for a new book to read and this one was the first one I found literally when I was walking into my bookstore and I am glad I did. I digested it in two days. Everyone complains about challenging reads and while there are challenging reads, it does not mean they are not enjoyable. This is written in a very easy to read style as most good books are, and I enjoyed reading about the many socio-cultural transformations that Anne Boleyn has suffered throughout the years, including when she lived. The first chapter starts out with the headline ‘Why you shouldn’t believe everything you’ve heard about Anne Boleyn’ and from there it explains a lot of the slander and myths about Anne that many fictional writers have used in their novels, including filmmakers, and dispelling and going even further explaining why they were made in the first place.
One thing that Susan Bordo did for Anne in this book is not only clear up the many myths surrounding her -as well as pointing out the slander by writers such as Sander during her daughter’s time- but also to point out that how we view her today says a lot about us. She also made an important point about how other wives are viewed. For example Katherine of Aragon who is derided because she was ugly and then praised for being too saintly. While the book offers a different interpretation of her saying she was not as saintly but in fact overtly pious and stubborn and casted her own downfall out of her own basic beliefs, it is vital to read every opinion regardless if we like it or not. And she does point something very important too, that Anne is often blamed and used as the scapegoat for Henry’s actions and that this view doesn’t do her any favors nor does it help us understand the period any better. Furthermore it doesn’t help us seeing Katherine as a saintly or old and ugly figure. She had her flaws as Bordo said, and as with every historical person we must see them and accept them as they were, with their flaws, strengths and other dimensions and in the context that they lived.
Unfortunately not many can swallow this view because history needs to have a villain and most of the times the villain tends to be a woman and for many years this villain was Anne Boleyn. She recounts the Catholic Slander and from other sources that Anne Boleyn received. Though these have been disregarded, there continues to be a view of Anne as the temptress, seductress and home-wrecker. This is slowly fading away but it is nonetheless problematic that this view continues to be held by half who base most of their opinions on historical fiction.
Susan Bordo says that the reason why Anne Boleyn continues to captivate us is because she continues to be reinvented and has been in need of rescue. While I do agree that Anne is in need in rescue and she is in an important symbol for the third wave of feminism thanks to her recent portrayal in “The Tudors”, we must also remember other women who can be seen in the same light and while not enjoying much fame -largely because colonial powers have erased them from the face of the map and on some occasions distorted them to the point that even today when they are rescued, they are not seen in a fair and objective light- they were remarkable and some of them did not possess as Anne through her mother Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard and the other five wives, royal blood. Growing up, me and my friends would try to find out about these women because we yearned to find about these women who could give us strength, women from our native ancient past from pre-colonial times who even today hardly gain any recognition. The Creation of Anne Boleyn offers new perspective and also the opportunity of doing character study on other historical women.
It is a detailed and enjoyable biography, one that ever Anglophilie will enjoy.
The way Amy Licence writes the story of the wives and the mistresses is so unique and beautiful and this is a must-read for everyone that hasn’t read about the wives yet. Amy starts with setting the stage by explaining about the different beliefs regarding sex, conception, and the many methods …used in each. Religion also played an important part in this period, so a lot of the book focuses on the religious aspect from Catholicism to the different sects of Protestantism that were taking over England. The book dedicates a huge chunk on Henry’s first wives and deconstructing these women from what is believed to what actually happened. There were many other things that I wasn’t completely aware of this period that blew my mind when I found out. And this is how Amy writes, she does it in such a way that she dispels all the myths regarding these elusive figures, namely the women who are still seen through a male objective lens. She starts by Katherine of Aragon, including all the important details regarding her education, her preparation for her future role as Princess then Queen of England to all the contributions she did when she finally became queen, from being a great patroness of artists and humanists, to being the first of Henry’s wives to become Regent and on top of that, enjoy a very amorous and passionate relationship with him. The image that we have of Katherine as prude and old is not very accurate. As she got older she did become more pious and secluded from the material world -though she still enjoyed many of his banquets and participated in the jousts, observing her husband ride like he was still the passionate youth from his younger days. But in her youth she was a highly pragmatic, energetic, passionate and attractive young woman who probably caught Henry’s attention since he led her down the aisle to marry his older brother, the crown heir, Arthur. But there was also another aspect to Katherine and that was that in her years of political limbo, when her father’s enmity with her older sister and her husband forced her to be stranded on England with little to no help from anybody, made her highly dependent on her lecherous priest Friar Diego which in turn, turned out to damage her reputation for a while.
This is not to say that Katherine wasn’t strong. She was but she was also human and very young at the time and with her mother gone, her father and sister far away and at war with each other, she had very few people she could trust, and there was also that cunning and ambitious element of her that is often neglected. Katherine did everything she could after her father came with a temporal solution to alleviate her status by making her his unofficial ambassador. She sought Henry out more, she ingratiated herself with his sister, made sure she was pleasing to both of them, especially the young boy who turned out to be more handsome and athletic than his late brother at his age. By all means, crowned jointly and enjoying equal status, Katherine believed her marriage would be successful but two things happened: Her new year baby died and she suffered a horde of miscarriages and as she did, she also lost her figure and as her looks faded Henry turned his attention to other women. And this is where the author provides evidence that defies the notion that Henry was a prude with only two official mistresses.
Henry wasn’t the libertine monarch that Francis was. He didn’t flaunt his mistresses in Katherine’s face or showed them off to everyone or gave them official status of mistresses as he did. Henry, always concerned with his image, was cautious and with a great network of servants who were willing to do anything to please their king, they helped him keep most of these affairs secret. But occasionally word got out and on two of these occasions it put a strain on his first marriage. Katherine was humble and loyal but she could not accept at first that there was another woman besides her sharing her husband’s bed, she didn’t believe his servant was sleeping with Anne Hastings and argued ferociously with Henry about it but she soon became pliant and docile but her anger turned up again after he had a son with Bessie Blount which he showed off to prove that the fault lay in Katherine not in him for his lack of legitimate sons. Katherine’s discomfort became well known when Henry ennobled him with titles and mansions and gave him almost equal status to that of her daughter.
The most opposition that Henry would face however would not come from his first wife but from Anne. Katherine despite failing to keep her anger and hatred over his affairs secret at times, was true to her motto of ‘Humble and Loyal’ and became beloved by the people for the charity work she did, her time as Regent defending the English borders from the Scots and emulating the virtues that were expected of women -especially royal consorts- at the time. Anne was very different in that respect. She was a cosmopolitan and highly energetic and like Katherine, highly educated woman who sported different religious ideas and whose path with him might not have been intentional as Amy Licence points out. After all, who could refuse the king of England? Nobody. Anne’s strong moral convictions and her refusal of Thomas Wyatt years before, as well as learning from experience after Wolsey had broken up her intended union with Percy, echoed those found in Vives’ books that women had to be on the look out for men’s attentions and refuse any sexual advances. Yet, the author also defies the notion that Henry abstained himself from sex the entire time and the proof of this once again lies in the contemporary sources listing the women present at the time who served or whose husband served Henry and whom he might have fathered illegitimate children with.
Anne’s tragic fall from grace lay in her failure to deliver (as her predecessor) a son. Shortly after her brother and alleged lovers and her own execution, Henry remarried. His third wife, Jane Seymour is more of a mystery and I wish there was at least one more chapter dedicated to her but this is possibly owed to the fact that her reign was very short. However she does dedicate a great deal of attention regarding the time of her son’s conception to Edward’s birth and her death and the possible causes for it. It is well known that Jane died of childbed fever but what led to it? At the time of the birth she was attended by male doctors who did not have the experience or knowledge that midwives did. It is at this point that women stories start to get omitted and women’s labor changes drastically because of it. Midwifery is start to be seen as superstitious whereas ‘learned’ men such as doctors are the new norm. Unfortunately theory is very different from practice and if they had just bothered to ask one of their female counterparts for directions like washing their hands, etc, Jane could have avoided her death.
Between the period of his mourning and courting for royal matches, Henry might have been spending time with other women and this is not such as a stretch as we have seen by the earlier examples. But as a king he needed to marry and unlike two of his wives, he needed a royal match to cement an alliance and the lucky bride was Anne of Cleves whom he later declared was unattractive and that she was not a virgin just by looking at her. The notion is so ridiculous as Amy notes, yet once Henry’s mind was made up, it was made up! And what could you do about it? Poor Anne of Cleves knew very little about the country she was about to get married in. She had been pre-contracted to the Duke of Lorraine and that was used as an excuse to annul her marriage. As a girl she had been trained to be the perfect duchess, not a queen. When she reached Calais her brother wrote to Wriothesley and other royal officials to teach her sister of the English ways and they did just that, but they failed in teaching her about the masques that her future husband loved to engage in. This one omission made a great difference. When Henry met her in disguise, Anne had no idea he was the king and turned away from him coldly exclaiming she didn’t find his attentions funny. This was the whole catalyst for his dislike of her. His next wife was the contrary. She was energetic, to his judgment she was a virgin, and like his third wife Jane Seymour she adopted a similar motto that was meant to express she would be the perfect docile wife. But her past soon caught up with her and when Henry was told of it in a letter he devastated. Katherine Howard would share the same gruesome fate as her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. But her relationship with Thomas Culpeper is also put into question. Was it sexual or just platonic? We will probably never know.
The last wife to take the center stage is the rich (twice) widowed, Katherine Parr. Like the first Katherine she inspired confidence and she was kind, humble and loyal. She was married to Henry for nearly four years, his second longest marriage. She encouraged him to see his children more and she was partly responsible for reinstating Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession. And far from the ‘nurse’ stereotype that is attached to her figure, she was an educated, highly pragmatic and religious advocate whose work helped fast forward the Reform movement in England.
Like with all her books, Amy Licence lays out the facts for you but it is up to you to make the decision whether you believe them or not.
This book is a great addition to the Tudor shelves and to women’s histories which she tells in such a way that hasn’t been told before.
On the first of January, 1540, Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves met at the Bishop’s Palace in Rochester. Anne expected to meet Henry on the third of January when she reached Greenwich but the King had a change of plans. As it can be expected from a man who …loved engaging in courtly love, he and his men disguised themselves in hooded cloaks, intending to surprise his bride-to-be. Anne however did not have the kind of background that Anne had in the French, Austrian and English courts. Or the one her first predecessor, Katherine of Aragon had in the Spanish court where her mother made sure their daughters learn everything from music, plays, art and of course languages and historic and fantastic literature.
As Amy Licence notes in her latest book -Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII:
“The Court of Cleves, with its heavily moral tone and Catholicism tempered by Erasmian theories, did not encourage the sort of merrymaking, masques and lavish celebrations which had set the tone of Henry’s court since his succession. More unforgivably, no one had instructed her about the marital duties of a wife and she arrived in England quite ignorant about sex.”
Furthermore, she did not realize that the King was going to surprise her using the same tropes he used for his first two wives. So when he and his men came to her chambers and he attempted to woo her and got closer to her, she rebuked him strongly and turned away. Henry made himself visible, donning his cloak and Anne feeling embarrassed, apologized but by then it was too later.
This meeting set the tone for her impending marriage and it can be said, also sealed it for disaster.
Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence