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
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A Reminder for Henry VII of that illustrious Lady Elizabeth

Henry VII Shadow in the tower

On the 10th of December 1485, Henry VII swore before parliament that he would marry Elizabeth of York. He had first sworn this during the Christmas of ’83 when he was still in exile at Brittany. But when he won the crown, he wanted to make it known that he was king based on right of conquest and his lineage alone and no through his wife. Parliament however felt differently, and reminded him (through its speaker, Thomas Lovell) of his promise and the importance behind their union.

 “Your Royal Highness should take to himself that illustrious lady Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV, as his wife and consort, whereby by God’s grace, many hope to see the propagation of offspring from the stock of Kings, to comfort the whole realm.”

The wedding was scheduled for the following year on the eighteenth of January.

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Their union became symbolic of the two warring houses of Lancaster and York which had plunged the country into civil war for over thirty years, coming together as one. The next generation would come to embody that, using this powerful symbol in all of their coronations as proof of divine providence.

Sources:

  • Winter King by Thomas Penn
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes

The Coronation of Elizabeth of York

EOY red and SOT

On the 25th of November 1487, over a year after her marriage to Henry VII, Elizabeth of York was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Her ceremony superseded that of her husband’s. It began two days before on Friday, the twenty third when she and a select number of ladies and courtiers traveled by barge to the Tower of London. Elizabeth received a great reception and was greeted by almost every Londoner who had come out to see their beloved princess. Her father was greatly remembered after his many victories and regaining the throne, following the Lancastrian Readeption; not to mention that the Commons also remembered her mother’s passive response during that time. She hadn’t asked them to rise up in arms, or disobey their new overlords. Instead, she sought sanctuary at the Abbey and lived off the charity of the Abbot and others nearby.

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Furthermore, Elizabeth was widely loved in the North as the eldest Princess of York. And her marriage to Henry symbolized the union of the two warring branches of the Plantagenet House from which they both descended: Lancaster & York. It was important that Henry gave his wife a ceremony to be remembered in years to come. Image was everything and the Tudor Dynasty was new, and it needed this kind of splendor and rhetoric to convince the people of its legitimacy in order to survive.
One of the many symbols that would have graced the palaces and the Tower would be the Tudor rose, a white rose in the middle of the red. The white symbolized the House of York. The red stood for Lancaster. Roses were very popular symbols during the middle ages. They symbolized the Virgin Mary, in the case of the red rose as Leanda de Lisle explains:

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

Or (in the case of the white rose) the five wounds inflicted on Jesus Christ when he was nailed to the cross. After Edward IV’s victories, the white rose became one of his personal symbols. It was soon associated with his House, and although there is record of some using the red rose as a form of opposition to the Yorkist House, it was not the official symbol of said house. Nonetheless, it became popular that Henry took it as a symbol for Lancaster and because it was also easy and very iconic, used it to create this new symbol for his dynasty. One which would also give the people a new narrative in which the war was over thanks to him, who had come to save the day and whose marriage had stopped the bloodshed.

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Besides this, according to John Leland’s “Collectanea” (which is based on old notes he’d taken from monks’ books that included important events such as coronations), “the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and many out of every craft attended [the Queen] in a flotilla of boats freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk richly beseen with the arms and badges of their crafts” and rowed by liveried oarsmen. Alongside Elizabeth’s barges were others “garnished and appareled, surpassing all others”, containing the model of the “great red dragon” –which was none other than Cadwaladr, the same red dragon that he took as his personal standard during the Battle of Bosworth and that was no part of the royal arms- that “spouted flames of fire into the Thames.” Everything else from “music of trumpets, clarions, and other minstrelsy” formed part of the entertainment that accompanied the Queen on her road to the Tower of London which had housed so many of her predecessors, and was the traditional destination before their coronation.

Tower of London

 The following day, on the twenty-fourth, she made her state entry into London. Dressed splendidly, wearing a kirtle “of white cloth of gold of damask, and a mantle of the same suit furred with ermine, fastened before her breast with a great lacel curiously wrought of gold and slik and rich knots of gold at the end, tasseled.” Her hair was set loose with only a “caul of pipes over it.” This, biographer and novelist Alison Weir explains, consisted of a coif “cross-barred with a network gold cords, a fashion popular in France and Italy.”

Emerging from the Tower, with her sister [Cecily] carrying her train, she climbed into a litter richly hung with white cloth of gold damask. Eight horses pulled the litter and new Knights of the Bath carried a large canopy above her. As before, Elizabeth toured the city of London, only this time on land. Crowds showed the same enthusiasm as seeing their queen-to-be and beloved Princess, as the day before. And that joy would be doubled the day after when she was finally crowned.

The day was no mere coincidence as it fell on St. Catherine’s day who as Elizabeth had been a King’s daughter, and was widely revered for her intellectualism and her piety. It is known that Elizabeth was educated as expected of a lady of her station, with a love for chivalry and a strong piety which no doubt was instilled by her mother and her paternal grandmother, the Duchess of York –Cecily Neville aka “Queen by Rights”. According to Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall –writing in the sixteenth century- Henry did this as proof of his “perfect love and sincere affection” for his consort.

“Elizabeth went to her coronation on sumptuously attired in a kirtle, gown, and mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine bands, and the same circlet of gold garnished with pearls and precious stones that she had worn the day before. This circlet was probably a gift from Henry; from the late fourteenth century at least, it had been customary for the crown worn by a queen in her coronation procession to be given to her by the King.” (Weir)

With her sister carrying her train once more, Elizabeth traveled to the Abbey dressed in a mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine brands. And as was customary for queens on their coronation, her hair was loose with only a circlet of gold with pearls and other precious stones on it. Above her was a canopy that followed her all the way to the church. With her, were also her aunts the Duchesses of Bedford and Suffolk, and her cousin Margaret Pole. Notably missing was her mother, the Queen Dowager. Some historians take this as evidence that Henry suspected her involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion, others –like biographer and novelist, Susan Higginbotham- take a middle approach and point out her eldest son’s (the Marquis of Dorset, Thomas Grey) arrest which “soured her relations with the King.”

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Elizabeth was anointed twice on the breast and head, then had the ring placed on her fourth finger, followed by a golden crown on her head, a scepter and rod of gold on each hand. Following this event, she and her party traveled to Westminster Hall where a great banquet awaited her.

“An observing herald recorded the arrangements and menu of the occasion. First, onlookers were cleared away by horseback riders, to make way for the guests: lords, bishops and abbots; barons, knights and nobles, beside London’s mayor, aldermen, merchants and distinguished citizens, were seated either side of the dais on which Elizabeth would be served, flanked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, her aunt the Duchess of Bedford and paternal grandmother Cecily Neville. Another two noblewomen sat under the table at her feet the whole time to assist her discreetly.” (Licence)

Following tradition, like her father during her mother’s coronation, her husband was not visibly present for hers. He and his mother, the Countess of Richmond, watched the event from a private spot.

As for the courses: Dishes such as hart, pheasant, capons, lamprey, crane, pike, carp, perch and custard were served *“followed by an elaborate ‘subtlety’, decorative dish that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the mouth.” Furthermore, the seating arrangements were as followed: Her maternal grandmother, Katherine Woodville, the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Bedford was seated at her left hand with her uncle’s widow, the Countess Dowager of Rivers and the Countess of Oxford kneeling at either side of her. The new Queen of England would have also been entertained by music and ballads made for this occasion.

Elizabeth of York remains an elusive character. Some historians and novelists have taken her actions during the Ricardian regime out of context to convey a sinister and manipulative aspect that is neglected by their predecessors; but by doing this they are doing the same mistake. You can’t judge Elizabeth of York by modern standards. She was a woman of her times, and one who was born a Princess. She believed it wasn’t only her right, but her divine right to marry someone of her same station or above her. In case of the latter, this depended largely on what would benefit her family. During her uncle Richard III’s reign, after he vowed that he wouldn’t harm her, her mother and her sisters, she and Cecily were invited to court where they attended Anne Neville. Some have taken her actions during that Christmas, when she and her aunt wore similar clothing as proof of her scheming –so like her mother- to snatch Richard from Anne so she could be Queen and her family would be back in favor. But this narrative follows the same myths regarding her mother and the rest of her maternal family –the Woodvilles- that they were power-grasping and didn’t think things through. Elizabeth’s actions as that of her maternal family might seem so to us at first, but in an era of uncertainty, it was very common for people, especially the high-born, to change allegiances. Elizabeth and her mother had already risked too much, and who knew how long Richard would last in power? There was no guarantee that Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond would come back to defeat Richard. The odds were not in his favor; Elizabeth and her family had to do what was best for them. There is no evidence however that Elizabeth lusted after her uncle or vice-verse. Richard III was already planning a dual marriage for the both of them to Portuguese royals so whatever you might have seen on TV or read in fiction, take that out of your minds.

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

Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry had the advantage that the two had come to know during that five month interim, from late August to January.
Elizabeth of York’s affected Henry. After he died in 1509, he was buried alongside her. Elizabeth of York remained a model for perfect queenship, a model which her son would judge all of his queens.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham*
  • Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

1415: The Battle of Agincourt

Henry V Agincourt depictions

On the 25th of October 1415, St Crispin’s day, Henry V fought valiantly against the French in what became one of the most significant battles of the One Hundred Years War and of his reign. But if we are to believe this narrative, we are ignoring all the facts. The truth is that Henry’s army was sick and tired. Most of them were hungry as well, and the capitulation of the town of Harfleur (who had no choice but to give in to Henry’s demands) did little to motivate them. The sources vary, but all of them agree that the French outnumbered them, and it was going to be one hell of a fight –and as some of them viewed it, a massacre.

“The French army was disposed, according to the regular medieval way, in three “Battles” or divisions, one behind the other … The first, or “vaward” consisted of about 13,500 men; of these 8,000 were men-at-arms, and 5,500 were archers, who stood behind the men-at-arms … Ring Henry, also, after prayers had been held and mass celebrated, drew up his army in three “battles” or divisions, not, however, like the French, one behind the other, but each division in line with the other, so as completely to fill up the space between the two woods.” (R. B. Mowat)

Henry V shakespeare

Henry had risked everything for this enterprise, yet even he couldn’t break his rules of engagement. Besides citing his claim to the French throne, he had also cited the bible which said that unless provoked, he wouldn’t attack. Until now, he had manipulated the situation to make it seem as if he was the injured party; hence his reluctance to attack. But as it became evident that the French were not going to attack, he decided to draw first blood.

Ian Mortimer points out that one of the reasons why the French lost the battle was because they had cornered the English, preventing them from reaching Calais, but “in doing so they had placed themselves in a narrow confined space between two woods, and with ground sloping away on either side.” Furthermore, “they were encamped in a ploughed field that had turned into a quagmire as a result of the recent heavy rain –and conditions were going to get worse.” 

And they did get worse. Henry V relied on his bowmen as his great-grandfather, Edward III, had done, and the French, believing they wouldn’t be as vital, pushed their crossbowmen to the back. Approximately, Henry’s army consisted of a thousand knights, esquires, and other fighting men, excluding the archers, on each division. Archers numbered 5,000. And the latter, besides the muddy terrain, did the most damage to the French army.
When their king gave the order to attack, they put a piece of earth on their mouths and charged towards the French. Although the French were prepared to take them on, their position made it difficult to fight, and the shower of arrows on their cavalry overwhelmed them. And the speed in which they fired was thanks to their light armor which made it easier for them to move their arms.

“The French commanders could only look on with dismay and mounting consternation as the riders on the wings rode chaotically back into the vanguard. Even those who had not lost their horses, and how had clung on, had great difficulty controlling their steeds as they careered in panic away from the arrows … There was only one option left open: to sound the trumpets commanding a full onslaught of all the troops. And to overwhelm the English through sheer force of numbers.” (Mortimer)

Nonetheless, the odds as it’s been described, were not in their favor. And despite their bravery, some of the commanding officers, realizing what the outcome would be, had to yell at their men to retreat.

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The fighting lasted about three hours. Among the English casualties were the Duke of York and the Earl of Suffolk. The French suffered more casualties, along with many being captured. The author of the Gesta wrote that never had the Englishmen “fallen upon their enemies more boldly or fearlessly, or with a better will.” One might be wondering what was Henry doing the entire time, and the answer was that he was fighting “as a famished lion for his prey”. Before the battle began, he said some words of encouragement to his men. Shakespeare would later immortalize this battle by having Henry delivering a glorious speech in which everyone cheers, and is convinced by Henry’s mighty words that the battle will be won. Shakespeare like most historical fiction authors today was writing from hindsight. In real life, the people fighting that day didn’t know what the outcome would be. The French were confident in their numbers, but the confidence was shattered as soon as arrows rained down on them, and the fierce hand-to-hand combat broke down. As for the English, famished and tired, they were unsure whether they would win, but the terrain, the number of bowmen (and their armor), helped them. And no doubt, seeing their King fight with the same ferocity, and charging at the enemy when his younger brother Humphrey was stricken, helped too.

But there is a darker aspect, one that when we hear about this battle, often forget or dismiss entirely: The Slaughter that came afterwards. After hearing that what remained of his enemy forces, intended to launch a second attack, Henry ordered that the prisoners be killed.

“The order was met by his own men with incredulity rather than horror since it entailed the loss of so many valuable captives, and the threat of hanging was used as an incentive for any soldier inclined to disobey.” (Matusiak)

Over a century after the event, the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall made the event more gruesome, adding that the great majority were stabbed, their skulls bashed “with poleaxes” or “slain with mallets.” While this can be interpreted as dramatic license, the truth is not less horrifying. Regardless of Henry’s fears, his actions were cruel, and a perfect reminder that just as Henry V could claim to be the purveyor of divine justice, he could also be an angel of vengeance.

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Those that weren’t executed were because of their ranks and lineage (including the Duke of Orleans), Henry told them: “Look at my men. They never mounted on women, nor robbed men or the Church” while another account has him saying that the reason the French lost was because they “had committed sacrilege in robbing and violating churches … taken by force all kinds of people … they had robbed the whole population and destroyed them without cause.”

This victory validated Henry’s ambition, and it also pushed him to the limits, to keep proving to his nations that his enterprise was well justified and blessed by God. And 600 years after the battle, Agincourt continues to capture the imagination of many history buffs, but beneath the romantic myths spawned by the nationalist sentiment that the one hundred years war helped spawn, and that the play-writers and other fiction authors gave it, lies a more interesting (and complex) story.

Sources:

  • Henry V by R.B. Mowat
  • Henry V: The Warrior King of 1415 by Ian Mortimer
  • Henry V by John Matusiak
  • The One Hundred Years War by Desmond Seward

The Wedding of the Century Part I: Mary I and Philip of Spain

Mary I and Philip of Spain

Mary married Philip on the 25th of July 1554 at Winchester Cathedral. The marriage was officiated by Stephen Gardiner. There is no source that speaks about the color of Mary’s dress, but thanks to the inventory, we know that her dress was one of rich purple (purple as everyone will remember, was a color reserved for royalty) with her husband-to-be wearing a robe “ornamented with pearls and precious stones” wearing the collar of the Garter, his breeches and doublet white “and over all a mantle of rich cloth of gold”. Mary’s train was the last one to arrive at half past ten “with all her council and nobility before her”. Her train was carried by the Marchioness of Winchester who was assisted by Sir John Gage, her lord chamberlain. The sword of state was carried by the Earl of Derby and she was attended by a “great company of ladies and gentlewomen very richly appareled.” Philip for his part was attended by the great noblemen of his Spanish court (the Grandees) and other courtiers who “were richly attired that neither His Majesty’s nor his Highness’ court ever saw the like.”

0Mary I dress

Even the heavy rain could not offset the glorious spectacle that was witnessed by English and Spanish courtier, and other guests of honor alike. While pop culture has been unkind to Queen Mary (I) Tudor, it is important to remember that Mary was the first Queen Regnant and as such, she was the subject of many attacks. But she was not a love-sick girl or crazy fanatic. Her policies, although ruthless, reflected the grim reality of the period. And her marriage with Philip reflects her own independence. Before the wedding began, the Bishop of Winchester made a speech in which he reminded his Spanish guests about the marriage treaty which clearly stated that although Philip was Prince of Asturias and King of Naples, he would have little control over English affairs, unless he was given royal permission. He also added that the wedding had been approved by parliament and was done in accordance to the wishes of the realm.

Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, Stephen Gardiner. Left (Tudors), right (Wolf Hall).
Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, Stephen Gardiner. Left (Tudors), right (Wolf Hall).

“With a loud voice Gardiner said that, if there be any man that knoweth any lawful impediment between these two parties, that they should not go together according to the contract concluded between both realms, that they should come forth, and they should be heard.” Then he asked “in English and Latin” who should give the Queen away and the “Marchioness of Winchester, the Earls of Derby, Bedford and Pembroke” gave her away “in the name of the whole realm.”

Afterwards, they heard Mass then went to the Bishop’s Palace where they “dined most sumptuously together” and enjoyed the rest of the celebrations. Over the following weeks, it was reported by a Spaniard visiting the English court, that Mary and Philip appeared “the happiest couple in the world, more in love than words can say” adding that he never left her side “and when they are on the road he is ever by her side, helping her to mount and dismount.” Philip played his role to perfection, as did his wife. But as the weeks turned to months and these turned to years, it became evident that the couple was anything but happy.

Sources:

  • Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation and Murder by Leanda de Lisle

Cousins at War: The Lady Mary’s Final Victory

Mary i and Jane

From the 18th to 20th of July 1553, the odds fully turned in Mary’s favor when an important ally found his way into her camp. The 16th Earl of Oxford, John de Vere was a complex man. He was a Protestant and a great military leader, whose experience no doubt, gave Mary the boost she needed to issue her proclamation where it goes as follows: “By the Queen. Know ye all good people that the most excellent Princess Mary, eldest daughter of King Henry VIII and sister to King Edward VI, your late sovereign Lord, is now by the grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, defender of the Faith and very true owner of the Crown and government of the realm of England and Ireland and all things thereto justly belonging, and to her and no other ye owe to be her true Liege, men…” Then she denounced Jane Grey’s usurpation, pinning all the blame on her father-in-law instead of her cousin, and declared herself the rightful queen. “… Most false traitor, John, Duke of Northumberland and his accomplices who, upon most shameful grounds, minding to make his won son King by marriage of a new found lady’s title, or rather to be king himself, hath most traitorously by long continued treason sought, and seek the destruction of her royal person, the nobility and common weal of this realm…” This is not surprising given that Mary knew the power of propaganda and she knew that a House divided, as during the Wars of the Roses with the case of the House of York, made everyone in her family look weak. And if people knew the nuts and bolts behind the usurpation, they wouldn’t blame the Duke, but instead look at Mary’s family. This would look very bad for the Tudor Dynasty. If a monarch couldn’t control her own brood, then how could she rule over a country? And it was much easier to use “bad councilors” as scapegoats rather than holding the royals accountable for their actions. Mary’s father had done it many times. Whenever he did a bad decision, someone else was blamed, be it his spouse, his in-laws, or his councilors.

Mary I Signature

The proclamation ended with a rallying cry calling all the “good people” to join “her said armies yet being in Suffolk, making your prayers to God for her success … upon the said causes she utterly defied the said Duke for her most errant traitor to God and to this realm” then she signed it as “Mary, the Quene”.

When Jane heard what happened, she was out for blood. She ordered her troops to march against the rebels in Buckinghamshire, naming William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, one of the two commanders. She gave him specific instructions to deliver “punishment or execution as they deserve.” The message was clear. Her cousin the Lady Mary Tudor might be older, more experienced and have the support of almost all the commons in the realm, but Jane Grey was no passive teenager. She was not going to give up so easily, and until her cause was fully lost, she was going to keep acting as she had done for over a week. Nobody who saw Jane, saw a timid girl, but a strong teenager who continued to carry out her duties as the unofficial queen. On the morning of the 19th, a Christening ceremony at Tower Hill where Lady Jane had been asked to stand in as godmother by one of her servants, a man named Edward Underhill. Her goddaughter was named after her husband, Guildford. Jane was too busy to attend so she sent her mother’s cousin, the Lady Throckmorton, instead. Other proxies were sent for her father and other family members, including William Herbert who excused himself from the ceremony, claiming he had to meet the French Ambassador to convince him of sending troops to fight off Mary’s common forces. In reality, William Herbert was pondering on his own future and where he would fit in all of this conspiracy if Mary won. How would she deal with the traitors? The Marquis had felt an air of unease the day before when he heard the news of Mary’s proclamation and the Earl’s defection. Although he had been given specific instructions to deal with the rebels, the Marquis chose not to comply. He and a number of other councilors gathered at Baynard’s Castle where they discussed a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Nobody wanted another civil war like the one that had split the country in two over one hundred years ago. The men gathered their things and rode to Cheapside where they declared Mary Tudor the lawful Queen and read her proclamation. The crowd went “mad with joy” the Imperial Ambassador reported. “From a distance the earth must have looked like Mount Etna.”

Jane Grey juxtaposed

Jane and her family also knew that everything was over. That same day, the council’s soldiers headed to the Tower to arrest the Duke of Suffolk. Jane’s father had heard of the council’s betrayal and rushed to tell his daughter the news. Jane did not lose her composure. Using the same irony she’d used against one of Mary’s maids when she mocked her Mass, she told her father that she was blameless and she only took the crown because he gave convincing arguments to her. If he hadn’t, she would have never done it. Her father was forced to take down the canopy of state, and other symbols that were representative of her reign, and agreed to the Council’s demands. Jane had gone from a guest at the Tower, awaiting her coronation, to a prisoner.

John Dudley

News of Mary’s victory reached Northumberland and his men that night. He felt angry and betrayed. He had suspected of the council’s betrayal since they asked him to go away to lead a small force against Mary. But he had not expected things would fall down so quickly. Realizing he was lost, and that he was going to be –not only Mary’s scapegoat- but the Greys’ scapegoat as well, he began to cry and sent someone to the new Queen, in the hopes that she would take pity on him. He told the vice-chancellor of Cambridge that their new monarch was a “merciful woman” and read her proclamation the following day, declaring her the rightful Queen. It was over. Mary had won. She was informed of her victory on the 20th. Mary, as her supporters, were overjoyed. She rode on a white horse, and made an inspection of her troops at four o’clock in the afternoon.

“An inspiring sight awaited her. The standards were unfurled, the military colors were set up and battle lines divided into two, under Wentworth and Susssex. For the first time as Queen, Mary saw her forces arrayed…” (Porter)

And like her maternal grandmother before her, she showed herself fearless, giving an inspirational speech “with an exceptional kindness and with an approach so wonderfully relaxed as can scarcely be described” that won everyone’s affections. After she finished with her inspection, she ordered a large detachment of cavalry to stream forth. The Lady Mary was delighted to hear the sounds of cavalry, and the cries of her men who did not stop cheering for their new Queen. She demonstrated an exceptional charisma, and she was ready to fight if needed be. Thankfully, it had not come to that. Lord Paget and the Earl of Arundel had come to tell her of the latest events, adding that the Duke of Northumberland had also surrendered. Bonfires were lit, people cried out to the sky, “men ran hither and thither, bonnets flew into the air, shouts rose higher than the stars, and all the bells were set a-pealing” wrote an anonymous Italian staying in London at the time, echoing the Imperial Ambassador’s words that the earth seemed to be shaking with joy.

Mary I signature Tudor

This was something unprecedented. Mary had won the throne without shedding one drop of blood. To her it must have felt like déjà vu. Her grandfather Henry Tudor, then Earl of Richmond, had won the crown through bloodshed, and he owed it largely in part to the military expertise of the 13th Earl of Oxford, another John de Vere who had always been a staunch Lancastrian and upon knowing that the royal Lancastrians were dead, he ran to Brittany to join Henry Tudor (who was considered by many, the last Lancastrian scion). While there were other factors that contributed to her grandfather’s victory, the Earl’s military expertise can’t be denied. He was there with Henry, helping him rally more men to his cause and after he won, his title was restored. Mary’s ally was Protestant unlike her, but despite this, he joined her because as his predecessor, he viewed her as the legitimate successor to Edward VI. And it was his decision to join her that became a turning point in this conflict. Mary having an army of commons was one thing, but soldiers mutinying, and an Earl who was well known for his military expertise joining her, was another. Mary thanked God, owing her victory to Him, saying that she “wanted the realm cleansed of divisive parties” and thanks to Him, she had done so. Mary’s struggles were far from over though, and so were Jane’s. The two cousins would still be pit against each other, and as Mary’s reign faced many rebellions, it became clearer that only one  of them could live.

Sources:

  • The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle

The Treaty of Greenwich, the Rough Wooing and Beyond

Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots.
Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots.

On the 1st of July 1543 the Treaty of Greenwich was signed which stipulated that the future King of England, Prince Edward Tudor would marry the Queen of Scots, Mary (I) Stewart. Mary of Guise was forced to agree with this treaty since as Consort she never really had a lot of influence outside of hosting pageantry and boosting her husband’s image through her own. However, with her husband’s death the past year, she began to be more involved in government, primarily because of her daughter’s well-being.

The Treaty had been discussed since the aftermath of James’ death. The pro-Protestant faction headed by the Earl of Arran agreed with the treaty and reached a compromise with the other Scottish lords. The Treaty seemed like a triumph for English ambitions of annexing Scotland to their domain. Never before had this happened. The last King who had these ambitions was Edward I of England. He sought to make the maid of Norway the new Queen of Scots –and in doing that, he would marry her to his son, Edward of Caernarfon (future Edward II) uniting both realms. Now Henry was going to make that dream a reality.
The treaty goes as follows:

  1. Prince Edward, eldest son and heir apparent of Henry VIII, now in his sixth year, shall marry Mary Queen of Scotland now in her first year.
  2. Upon the Consummation of the marriage, if the King is still alive, he shall assign to the said Mary, as dower, lands in England to the annual value of 2000 to be increased upon his death to 4,000.
  3. Until, by force of this treaty, the said Mary is brought into England she shall remain in custody of the barons appointed thereto by the 3 states of Scotland; and yet, for her better education and care, the King may send, at his expense, an English nobleman or gentleman with his wife or other lady or ladies and their attendants not exceeding 20 in all, to reside with her.
  4. Within a month after she completes her tenth year she shall be delivered to commissioners of England at the bounds of Berwick, provided that before her departure from Scotland the contract of marriage has been duly made by proxy.
  5. Within two months after the date of this treaty shall be delivered into England six noblemen of Scotland, two of whom, at the least, shall be earls or next heirs of earls and the rest barons or their next heirs, as hostages for the observance on the part of Scotland of these three conditions … the first and fourth articles of this treaty and the condition that if any of these hostages die he shall be replaced within two months by another of equal quality; Scotland, however, is to have power to change the hostages every six months for other of equal quality.
  6. Scotland shall continue to be called the kingdom of Scotland and retain its ancient laws and liberties.
  7. If after the marriage the Prince should die without issue the said Princess shall be at liberty to return into Scotland unmarried and free of impediment.
  8. Upon her going into England, James earl of Arran, governor of Scotland, who meanwhile shall receive the fruits of that realm, shall receive an acquittance thereof from the King and Prince Edward, a convenient portion for her honorable entry into England reserved.
  9. This treaty to be ratified within two months.

But Henry’s hopes proved to be (in Porter’s words) a true “chimera” because not long after Arran fell from power, many things happened which led to the Queen Mother becoming more influential than she had ever been, and making decisions in her daughter’s name, one of which included betrothing her to Francois I’s grandson, Francis. This did not happen all at once. By the time Mary Queen of Scots and her companions (among them her half-brother –who returned to Scotland shortly after- and her four female friends known as the “Four Maries”) a new King was in power. His name was Henry II and he was married to Catherine de Medici, although he was majorly influenced by his mistress, Diane Poiters who instantly formed a friendship with the child-Queen.
Henry II was just as conniving as his father, and he went a step further making her sign an agreement (shortly before her marriage) where she granted crown matrimonial rights to her husband and to France if she died and had no heirs. (This would come back to bite her later on.)

James Hamilton, Second Earl of Arran. He would become a Catholic after he agreed to a new betrothal between the Queen of Scots and the French Dauphin.
James Hamilton, Second Earl of Arran. He would become a Catholic after he agreed to a new betrothal between the Queen of Scots and the French Dauphin.

The Scots had always answered their monarch’s call when it came fighting against England. But this time it was different because the religious wars had creeped into Scotland, dividing the country into two. Yet despite their religious differences, there were some new Protestants that believed in Scottish sovereignty (such as Arran). The Earl intended to marry his son to the King’s youngest daughter, the lady Elizabeth Tudor, but if this failed and if the match between Prince Edward and his young Queen did not come to be, he also plotted to marry his son to her. Arran spent a lot of time negotiating with the English King through the latter’s ambassador, Ralph Sadler (who was a former protégé of his late minister, Thomas Cromwell) and sent commissioners south of the borders. But Henry VIII proved to be quite a challenge for them. Although these men were Anglophiles and were willing to give England a piece of the pie –more than Arran was willing to do- Henry still demanded too much. They succeeded in having him agree that Mary would stay in Scotland until she was ten but Henry also had the right to send “a nobleman or gentleman, with his wife or other lady or ladies and their attendants, not exceeding twenty in all, to reside with her”.

Mary of Guise.
Mary of Guise.

None of this came to be when Mary of Guise came to power and sent her daughter away (which Arran came to consent and he became a Catholic once again). What was known as the “Rough Wooing” came to be and carried on into Henry’s son, Edward VI, reign. Edward VI’s eldest uncle, the lord Protector, His Grace Duke of Somerset, sent many troops into Scotland, with the intention to pillage, kill and intimidate the Scots. Something he did not manage to do. And something which his successor, the future Duke of Northumberland did not agree.

Mary (I) Tudor, first Queen Regnant of England. The only things she had in common with MQS and her mother were their names and their religion.
Mary (I) Tudor, first Queen Regnant of England. The only things she had in common with MQS and her mother were their names and their religion.

During Mary I’s reign, although she was Catholic, she continued with her father and brother’s policy of aggression towards Scotland. She used the best tools and allies she had, her cousin Margaret Douglas and her husband who had been a prominent Scots, the Earl of Lennox, Matthew Stewart. Many believe that her religion made her into this evil mastermind who intended to unite all Catholic powers against her Protestant enemies. As enticing as this sound –and no doubt this would work in a Marvel or DC Alternate Universe of these events- this is not what happened. The only thing Mary (I) Tudor had in common with Mary of Guise and Mary, Queen of Scots was her name. That’s it. She was still spying and bribing people to keep tabs on the situation there and profiting from the religious tensions that were going on in the Regent’s court.

Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Elizabeth I.

With Elizabeth I’s tensions intensified. Proving she was the lion’s daughter, she did not agree but neither did she not agree to make Mary Queen of Scots (who was a widow by the time she came back to her native land) her heir and she put conditions on her that if she did not abide by them, then she could not inherit Elizabeth’s crown. We all know what happened there, no need to relive the events that led to Mary Stewart’s tragic death.

James VI of Scotland. On his cousin Elizabeth I's death, he became King of England.
James VI of Scotland. On his cousin Elizabeth I’s death, he became King of England.

Yet, Henry VIII’s ambitions as his ancestor –Edward I’s- would materialize but not in the way they would have imagined. After the Tudor Dynasty died out with Elizabeth I being the last monarch of that line, James VI of Scotland became King of England, uniting once and for all both realms. James VI was the only surviving son of Mary, Queen of Scots by her second marriage to her cousin, Henry Stewart otherwise known as Lord Darnley. Through both his parents he descended from the first Tudor monarch’s eldest daughter –Princess Margaret Tudor.  His descendants still reign today.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

Katherine of Aragon: A Humble & Obedient Wife

Katherine of Aragon kneeling before Henry VIII by Henry Nelson O'Neil.
Katherine of Aragon kneeling before Henry VIII by Henry Nelson O’Neil.

On June the 21st 1529 Katherine made her appearance before the Parliament Chamber of Blackfriars. Henry spoke of his mortal sin (being married to his brother’s wife for so long) and keeping his silence out of love for her but he could do so no more because it weighed heavily on his conscience.
It was Katherine’s turn. An excellent actress and politician like her father, she out-performed him. According to contemporaries, after she rejected the legality of the Legatine Court, she rose and crossed the floor then fell on her knees and declared before Henry and all the witnesses:

Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) in
Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) in “The Tudors” s.1

“Sir, I beseech you for all the love that there has been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right, take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominions, I have here no assured friend and much less indifferent counsel: I appeal to you as to the head of justice within this realm. Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I given you? Have I acted against your will and pleasure, so that you should intend -as I perceive- to put me from you?
I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did anything to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contended with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much, never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a glimpse or spark of discontentment. I loved all those whom you loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or not and whether they were my friends or my enemies.
These twenty years I have been your true wife or more, and by me ye have divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no fault in me.
When you had me first, I take God to be my judge I was a true maid without touch of man; and whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience if there be any just cause by the law that you can allege against me, either of dishonesty or any other impediment, to banish me and send me away from you, I will happily go to my great shame and dishonor; but if there be none, then here I most humbly beg you to let me remain in my former state and receive just at your hands.”

She was challenging Henry and telling him that everything that would happen from this point would be his doing and right or wrong, it would weigh on his conscience. In an era where women were expected to be submissive or passive, Katherine’s performance gave her supporters exactly that. By kneeling in front of Henry, appealing to his conscience and listing everything she had done for him, she had portrayed herself as the wounded wife and Henry as the aggressor. We all know that Katherine was weak or submissive, but she knew how to use these stereotypes to her advantage.

Afterwards, she went further and added how he would be insulting the memory of their respective fathers if he went ahead with this, then she rose and with her assistant walked out of the room, never looking back.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens:The Tragic & Noble Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda Lisle
  • Katherine of Aragon by Patrick Williams.

Thomas Cromwell’s Fall from Grace

Thomas Cromwell by Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Holbein.

On June the Tenth 1540, Thomas Cromwell was arrested on flimsy charges of treason and heresy. “Thomas Cromwell’s arrest” writes Hutchinson, “was as ruthless as it was sudden.”

Thomas Cromwell had traveled to Westminster Palace to take his place on the Privy Council. After the council, when everyone went to dinner, his mortal enemy, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, stood up and raised his voice and shouted “Cromwell! Do not sit there! That is no place for you! Traitors do not sit amongst gentlemen.”

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

When Thomas demanded to know what the hell was going on, the captain of the Guards, Anthony Wingfield and six more men came forward. Thomas Cromwell, as they predicted, did not go easily. He asked them what was the reason for his arrest, but the Captain of the Guards calmly told him that wasn’t his concern. He either went with them willingly and they wouldn’t hurt him, or else he resisted and they would use full force against him. Cromwell probably knew this day was coming. According to his latest biographer, Tracy Boarman; Thomas Cromwell was plotting against the Duke of Norfolk just as he was plotting against Cromwell. It was only a matter of who got there first.

Henry VIII of England.
Henry VIII of England.

Henry VIII could have easily stopped this from happening but Henry was the main force here. Norfolk loaded the gun, and Henry pulled the trigger. He was very dissatisfied with his fourth bride, Anne of Cleves. And although he had known of her pre-contract with the Duke of Lorraine, he agreed to marry her anyway because he needed the Cleves alliance so badly. Once he saw her, he tried to get out of this arrangement saying that she was ugly and that she wasn’t a virgin. But the truth is that Henry didn’t like her because of their first meeting. That first meeting on January of that year really determined their short marriage. Whereas Henry’s previous wives (including his first foreign wife, Katherine of Aragon) were very conscious of their roles as Queens and familiar with the pageantry and the culture of courtly love; Anne was educated in a very strict household. She had no idea what she was getting herself into. Or rather, her brother had no idea what she was going to getting his sister into. Anne was a fish out of water in the English court. Her garb was strange, she could barely speak English and she had no idea how to dance or engage in the types of conversation that other women of her adoptive country engaged on.
She was completely unprepared for this. And then came Henry VIII. He was no longer the handsome youth who had bedazzled so many women. He had grown morbidly obese and his ulcerous leg smelled bad. But being who he was, he still had a penchant for court drama so he thought of surprising his wife by arranging a playful visit to her. He and a few other courtiers dressed as bandits and arrived to Anne’s bedroom and started flirting with her ladies, including those she brought from Cleves.

You can imagine Anne’s horror as this happened. The leader of the bandits approached Anne and tried to speak with her and when he went too far –from Anne’s point of view- Anne pushed him away and told him to go away. For a man like Henry VIII with an ego the size of his realm, being told that he was disgusting and refused by in front of everyone, including his best friends, it was a huge humiliation. When he revealed who he was, Anne immediately apologized but it was too late. Her reaction made Henry make up his mind about her.

Cromwell tried many times to convince Anne to seduce Henry, to get on his good side but it wasn’t Anne who was at fault here, it was Henry. And it was Anne’s education. She hadn’t been told what she would be getting into, she hadn’t been prepared for this role the way her predecessors had been. Even her common predecessors. Anne Boleyn had served under three Queens, Jane under two. They knew state protocol, they knew all about courtly love. And Katherine of Aragon like Anne of Cleves, had been a foreigner but one who had grown in a court that treasured courtly love and were dressing good was everything. She was skilled in dance, music, art, everything. Anne had practical skills which were seen as very useful, but ultimately they paled in comparison to her other predecessors.

Henry VIII directed his anger at Cromwell. Cromwell tried to tell him that he couldn’t get out of this arrangement so easily. He had agreed to marry Anne of Cleves, and there was nothing else he could say that would justify his repudiation of her. So Henry married her. But he was very angry at Cromwell. And Cromwell was taking too many liberties with his privileges position. Though Boarman believes that Anne was as ugly as Henry saw her, she does admit that it may have all been a matter of perception. And that one of the people who added more fuel to the fire of disappointment is Cromwell. Cromwell probably knew Anne was no great beauty, but by no means was she ugly. She could enchant the King. But Cromwell as always wanted to make sure that Henry would fall in love with her before he got to lay eyes on her so he started bragging about her beauty, saying that her hair shined like the sun, that her eyes were like stars, that her skin was so fair, etc. Then there was also the religious factor. Thomas Cromwell was a very methodical and pragmatic man; he did what the King asked him to. But he was also a Reformist sympathizer and his sympathies were becoming more obvious to the King and his enemies.

Thomas Cromwell Tudors
Thomas Cromwell (James Frain) in the “Tudors”.

After Cromwell was apprehended by the royal guards, he lost it. He said very angrily “This then is the reward for all my services?” Then he turned to the members of the Privy Council “On your consciences, I ask you, am I a traitor?”

If Cromwell believed he was going to cause a big impression and leave everyone dumbfounded, he was sorely disappointed because soon after he asked this, everyone began yelling “Yes” and “Traitor”.

Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall).
Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall).

After Cromwell finally came to grasps with the situation, he eyed all the people who were just so happy to see him lose for once, and said lastly: “I have never thought to offend, but if this is to be my treatment, I renounce all claims to pardon and only ask that the King should not make me languish long.”

Thomas was immediately dragged away after that. He was completely shocked. He had been plotting against Norfolk because he knew Norfolk was plotting against him, and he believed that he would get out of this, but there was no getting out of this this time. This was the end and as he was dragged from the room and heard the council members’ cries of joy, he realized he his days were numbered.

Sources:

  • Thomas Cromwell by Tracy Boarman
  • Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchinson
  • The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell by John Schofield
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On This Day in Tudor England by Claire Ridgway.

Henry VII Dies: The Death of the Red Dragon

Henry VII Bosworth

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

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

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

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

Tudor Rose 1

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

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

Margaret Beaufort old

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

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

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

A young Henry Tudor.
A young Henry Tudor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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