Who was the real Anne Boleyn? The True White Falcon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hever Portrait.

I leave that answer to you.


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

Anne Boleyn: The White Falcon’s Last Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

15th May 1567: A Most Unhappy (and Forced) Union

MQS c.1565

On this day, MQS (Mary, Queen Of Scots) & James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell were married at Holyrood House. The ceremony was conducted by the Bishop of Orkney. This action has often been criticized and taken as proof that Mary was an incompetent Queen. In the show Reign, I will give you the win, she is. In real life, the issue gets more complicated because she was far from the Mary-Sue-ish character she is often portrayed in Hollywood films. She was an intelligent, articulate, brave young woman who knew her position, and what was expected of her. However as Linda Porter, John Guy and other historians have pointed out in their respective biographies of her, she was raised as a Consort while in France instead of a Queen Regnant. This, no doubt, was problematic to many, including her defenders, who viewed that whoever she married was going to be the true ruler of their realm. (And it didn’t help that she signed, although coaxed, documents before her wedding to Francis that she would hand over the kingdom to the French crown if she died without issue). But her experience in French shaped her no doubt, being a close observer of court politics and seeing the family dynamics of the King, the King’s mistress and the King’s wife; her mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici. It was suggested after she became a widow that she married the next in line, her brother-in-law Charles, but Catherine and some French courtiers refused. The Guise family was rising too high and since her mother’s engagement to her father, the King of Scotland, they had been viewed as upstarts. She returned to Scotland and contrary to what is often shown in TV shows and movies; she didn’t seek to dethrone her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Although Mary had a claim to the English throne as a descendant of the first Tudor monarch (Henry VII) eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor; she preferred to ‘charm’ her older cousin so she would name her, her heiress. She went so far to win Elizabeth’s favor that she started allowing Protestant mass and the book of common prayer. However, Elizabeth did not want to name any heirs for fear they would start plotting against her. Elizabeth I was justified in her fears, but this made MQS frustrated and very soon she started voicing those frustrations to her cousin via her ambassadors. In response Elizabeth told them that while she preferred MQS over the Grey sisters, she could not name her, her heiress yet. Furthermore, she added, if MQS wanted to remain on Elizabeth I’s good side, she had to refuse any offer of marriage unless she had her royal permission. Mary agreed but as Elizabeth I kept delaying the matter of the line of succession, she got angry and went ahead and defied her cousin, marrying her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (another descendant of Margaret Tudor via her second marriage to the Earl of Angus). Elizabeth naturally panicked and had his family under house arrest, but this didn’t solve anything. MQS became pregnant right away and gave birth to a baby boy (the future James VI of Scotland and I of England). But things were not good for Mary, either. Defiance had a price and that price was in the form of a bad marriage. Disputes and disagreements, the two couldn’t reconcile no matter how hard his parents, especially his mother (the formidable Countess of Lennox, Margaret Douglas) tried. When Darnley was murdered, MQS was blamed and although evidence has been used to prove she was guilty, some recent historians have doubted the validity of the famous ‘Casket Letters’. Whatever the truth, MQS wasn’t his only enemy, he had many more in Scotland who were eager to see him dead. It is probable one of them killed him.

As soon as MQS knew, she tried to be diplomatic about it and arm herself to the teeth but failed. One notable courtier who often defended the young Queen (but wasn’t without self-ambition) got the idea of kidnapping her and marry her. Bothwell was “never a man to underrate himself or miss an opportunity”, Porter writes. He played a last part in MQS last parliament, and the day after he invited a number of the most influential lords to supper where he produced a draft of a bond he wanted his fellow lords to sign.

James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell. His bond was endorsed by eight bishops, and the earls of Morton, Huntly, Caithness, Argyll, Cassilis, Sutherland, Crawford, Errol and Rothes, and the Lords Boyd, Herries, Ogilvy and Sempill.
James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell. His bond was endorsed by eight bishops, and the earls of Morton, Huntly, Caithness, Argyll, Cassilis, Sutherland, Crawford, Errol and Rothes, and the Lords Boyd, Herries, Ogilvy and Sempill.

This was to confirm his innocence of Darnley’s murder and to defend himself of any lies said about him (using any means necessary), and furthermore to become Mary’s husband. The draft said Mary would be given a choice, but we all know what really happened when he encountered MQS’s party (who were headed to Edinburgh). Bothwell approached the Queen and said it was her choice to say yes or no, but there was not much of a choice.

“If she was truly kidnapped against her will, why did she not cry out or demand assistance as they passed through the various small towns and villages on route? There are several answers to this, the most obvious of which is that surrounded by a press of eight hundred horsemen it is unlikely that she could ever have been heard. But more persuasive even is the culture of the time: it would have been improper for a gentlewoman to try and fight her way out of the situation physically and, besides, Mary had no means of so doing even if she had been minded to try and escape. She does appear to have sent her messenger, James Borthwick, to Edinburgh to seek help from the citizens there, but all they could manage was tow salvoes of cannon as the riders went past them at speed. Mary was not completely at Bothwell’s mercy. When they arrived at Dunbar he dismissed all her ladies-in-waiting and replaced them with his sister Jane Hepburn the widow of Lord John Stewart, Mary’s favorite half-brother.” -Porter

There is plenty of evidence that points that Bothwell did rape Mary and since a Queen, although God’s anointed monarch, was supposed to protect her country and her reputation above all else; she could say very little. If she did scream or cry or denounce Bothwell she would have been seen as incompetent by the men of her times, including her cousin, who would use this opportunity to say that this was a Queen who was acting irrationally, who couldn’t control her own subjects and as a consequence, it was her fault for being so dumb. That was the thinking back then (and sometimes today too). With so few options, Mary could do nothing but recognize the marriage and accept it had happened. Furthermore, she was fearful for her son’s future. There were so many people who could abuse him, shape him into becoming something she dreaded, if she was deposed. So Mary did what so many women back then did, deny the charges of violence and tell her lords on the 12th of May that she forgave Bothwell for everything he had done, two days later she signed their marriage contract and on the fifteenth, she married him.


  • Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary, Queen of Scots by John Guy
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn

Katherine of Aragon: The Politics of Queenship & the Evil May Day Riots

Katherine of Aragon as played by Natalia Rodriguez in the Spanish series Isabel.
Katherine of Aragon as played by Natalia Rodriguez in the Spanish series Isabel.

A year after Queen Katherine of Aragon had given birth to Princess Mary, a riot broke out in London on the first of May, composed of young laborers and apprentices against foreign merchants whom they claimed were stealing their jobs. The day became known as the “Evil May Day Riots”. The rioters broke out into the houses of these merchants and attacked everyone who stood in their way or they perceived as a foreign sympathizer. Before this could get more out of hand the King sent the Duke of Norfolk to arrest the men responsible. On May 4th, thirteen people were executed, three days later John Lincoln (who had written a treatise along with his associate Doctor Bell, inciting people to violence) was executed. This would not be the last xenophobic episode on English soil. After the divorce, England would become more isolated and more nationalistic. National pride in Tudor times would reach its apex after the defeat of the Armada in 1588. However, the roots of national pride can be traced way back to the Hundred Years War with France.

After their leaders were executed, the remaining rioters prepared to die when Catherine of Aragon appeared on the scene with her two sisters in law, and begged Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey to show them mercy. They did.
Some see this as a great act of humility on Katherine’s part, born out of kindness and the empathy she felt for the common people. But there is another element to this that it is often forgotten. Queen Consorts were expected to emulate every virtue of the Holy Mother (the Virgin Mary), they were expected to be humble, kind, and gracious. As such acts as these were required of them. Another reason is that Katherine understood the politics behind queenship very well, having learned from the best. Her mother was well-known for her popularity and Catherine likewise learned the value of making good relations with the common people.


  • Katherine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

The Protestant Jezebel: Friar Peto’s Vicious Attack against Anne Boleyn

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

On Easter Sunday 31st March 1532, Friar William Peto, Princess Mary’s confessor, preached a controversial sermon at the Franciscan Chapel of Greenwich Palace. The sermon was aimed at the King and his intended bride Anne Boleyn. The Friar, being the Princess’ confessor and head of the Franciscan Observants, was a staunch supporter of the Princess and her mother. In his sermon he compared the King of England to the biblical King Ahab whose refusal to listen to Elijah’s prophecies led to his divine punishment, dying in agony from the wounds inflicted to him during a battle. In addition, the King had sinned by marrying the pagan Jezebel who brought with her, her pagan priests and the adoration of her many gods.

Johnathan Rhys Meyers (Henry VIII) and Natalie Dormer (Anne Boleyn) in "The Tudors". The series effectively captures this moment when the friar preaches against the King's intended union comparing it to the doomed couple Ahab and Jezebel.
Johnathan Rhys Meyers (Henry VIII) and Natalie Dormer (Anne Boleyn) in “The Tudors”. The series effectively captures this moment when the friar preaches against the King’s intended union comparing it to the doomed couple Ahab and Jezebel.

“The King” Peto said, “was brought to Samaria” to be buried. When the chariot carrying his body broke down and “the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared.”

King Ahab
King Ahab

If Henry didn’t listen to Friar Peto’s prophecy, or the holy mother church, he would suffer the same fate as King Ahab and have his blood licked by dogs. This was enough for Henry. He ordered Friar Peto to be put under house arrest. The Venetian Ambassador hinted with irony that for every time Anne was insulted, “the more incensed the King” became in his pursuit of her.

Henry VIII wasn’t the only one under attack by the Friar’s vicious words. The Tudor era was no different than the medieval world, where women were the scapegoats of all the country’s problems. In this case the scapegoat was Anne Boleyn. Perhaps in what Peto was unique was that his sermon included the King, instead of focusing solely on Anne. Kings were after all anointed figures, ordained by the Catholic heads of their countries; they were seen as infallible. If anyone had a complaint against the King, they would not point fingers at him; instead, they would blame his councilors, his mistress or in this case his intended bride. Peto’s attack to Henry, while brutal, where no more brutal than those to Anne whom he compared (ironically) the Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. I say this ironically because Jezebel was an idolater in her adoptive country’s eyes. Their priests worshipped great figures, statues, and had sumptuous rituals which were unlike those of the Jewish tradition who forbid images. Anne, while advocating for a different religion, was no pagan and records show that she was a strict mistress who kept her household in order. When she became Queen, she ordered an English translation of the bible and told her servants and guests, that everyone was welcome to borrow it or read from it. She was the one who introduced Henry to religious reform by giving him her copy of Tyndale’s Obedience of a Christian Man and Fish’s The Supplication of Beggars. While much has been said about Anne’s religion, it is likely that she and her father were not “more Lutheran than Luther himself” like Chapuys described. It is very likely that Anne agreed with some of Luther’s ideas, but was more influenced by the Swiss and French thinkers whom her previous mistress’ sister-in-law (Marguerite of Navarre) admired. Perhaps it was this that made her in the eyes of her many a purely ambitious, amoral, irreligious persona who like Jezebel would bring doom to her kingdom.

But nothing could be farther than the truth. While Anne was certainly ambitious; Henry VIII’s future consort was the complete opposite of Jezebel. Strict, devout and an advocate of the new religion; Anne was no pagan Queen.

Jezebel meeting her tragic fate (pushed out from a window by her adoptive people).
Jezebel meeting her tragic fate (pushed out from a window by her adoptive people).

Anne was not the first to be compared to this pagan Queen (whose fate was equally tragic) and nor she would be the last. In a strange twist of fate, the religion that Anne cherished very dearly, and had given her comfort during her last days in the Tower while she awaited her execution, played the same trick on her stepdaughter [Mary I Tudor] when she became Queen. In 1554, a year after Mary’s coronation, John Knox published a pamphlet calling Mary Jezebel and comparing her to the whore of Babylon for bringing back idolatry to the British Isles and stirring the faithful away from the true faith.


  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton

Queen Mary I’s last will.

Mary I played by Sarah Bolger
Mary I played by Sarah Bolger

On the 30th of March 1558, Queen Mary I made her will believing she was still pregnant and would soon give birth. Bringing a (male) heir would solve many of her problems regarding her religious establishment –which maintained her father’s establishment and differed very little from it. One of her wishes was that her mother’s remains would be moved from St. Peterborough Cathedral to Westminster. After Mary became Queen, she legitimized her status as her parents’ true daughter and her mother’s status as Henry VIII’s true Queen. While this has been criticized by many biographers as proof of her fanaticism, in fact, the decision was a smart one and one she needed to do. Her grandfather, the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII, legitimized his future wife’s (Elizabeth of York) family, therefore making his union to her the following year more symbolic, as a true union of the Houses of Lancaster and York.
Furthermore, before the year was over, in November 7, 1485 during his first Parliament he reaffirmed the Beauforts legitimacy, re-enacting the statue of 1397 by Richard II and overturning the one of 1407 which had barred them from the succession.
Mary’s decision to rebury her mother at Westminster was not so much a religious one as a dynastic one, if she would indeed bear a son, her son needed to have all taint of illegitimacy gone from him and also bare the prestige of a great lineage. And possibly, a personal one, based on how her mother had been humiliated in her later years and buried as a ‘Princess Dowager’; Mary wanted to give her mother the justice she never had in her last years.

This never happened. Mary died months later in November and she was not buried until December. Neither of her wishes to be buried next to her mother or her mother reburied in Westminster were carried out. Instead, Catherine remained buried at Peterborough and she would not be joined by another Queen until decades later by none other than Mary Stewart, Queen of Scotland. Mary lies buried in Westminster Abbey under her sister in a large golden sarcophagus where only her sister Elizabeth’s effigy is visible.
The pregnancy that Mary experienced was another phantom pregnancy


  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor history by Claire Ridgway
  • Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen by John Edwards

A Princess is Born!

A Very Happy Birthday to Queen Mary I of England who was born on this day in 1516!
Mary I Birthday

Mary Tudor was the eldest surviving daughter of Henry VIII and the only offspring of Katherine of Aragon. She was born at the palace of Greenwich, Placentia at four o’ clock on February 18. Although Henry expected a male heir, he told the Venetian Ambassador, Sebastian Guistiniani, after he congratulated him for his newborn daughter that he and the Queen were both young and “If it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God, sons will follow.” Given Katherine’s age that was highly unlikely but he remained positive, his daughter was the first healthy child they had in six years since the birth of their short-lived son in 1511.

Mary was baptized two days later at the Church of the Observant Friars.

Her godparents were Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, her father’s chief minister, her great-aunt Katherine of York Countess of Devon (Elizabeth of York’s younger sister), the Duchess of Norfolk and Margaret Pole who had the honor of carrying the baby at the end of the ceremony. She was named after paternal aunt Mary Brandon nee Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk and Queen Dowager of France. Afterwards, she was plunged three times into the basin containing the holy water, anointed with holy oil, dried, and swaddled in her baptismal robe. As was customary, Te Deums were sung and she was taken to the high altar where once the rites were concluded, a proclamation was made:

“God send and give good life and long unto the right high, right noble and excellent Princess Mary, Princess of England and daughter of our most dread sovereign lord the King’s Highness.”

Mary would become Queen after  the death of her brother in 1553, and following her victory over the usurpation of her throne from the Grey/Dudley camp, she would be crowned three months later. Her reign would be short and to this day, controversial.
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock 
  • Mary Tudor by David Loades
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter.

In Defense of Katherine Howard Part 3: What her contemporaries thought of her

Here is what the French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac, had to say regarding Henry VIII’s relationship with his teenage wife:  

The King is so amorous of her that he cannot treat her well enough and caress her more than he did the others.”

Other envoys also reported favorably on Katherine, stating what had attracted her to Henry:
“It was upon a notable appearance of honor, cleanness and maidenly behavior and that High Highness was finally contented to honor that lady with his marriage, thinking in his old days -after sundry troubles of mind which had happened to him by marriage- to have obtained such a perfect jewel of womanhood and very perfect love towards him as should have been not only to his quietness but also to have brought forth the desired fruits of marriage.”

Which brings me to my next point: With all this said countless times, why does she still get to be portrayed as a bubbly head? They are doing a huge disservice to Katherine portraying her like an idiot when she clearly WASN’T. And sex sells and the Tudors were full of sex scandals but half of those scandals come from hundreds of years after they were dead and are mere inventions and shouldn’t be regarded as fact. So let’s do the poor girl justice once more and appreciate her for all her achievements, as insignificant as they might seem to us, she fulfilled her queenly obligations and her motto speaks millions of the role she intended to play, one as I said in my previous post, similar to Jane Seymour’s. Her one flaw was her past, and being young and fallen for a dangerous rogue who unlike the fictitious characters we love to fawn over in the movies, had nothing commendable about him.

So here I leave you with the only portrayal I’m able to stomach of Katherine, because she is not bubbly in this one and they do her more justice than any other series, albeit they still exaggerate in some things (it’s drama after all).

Best portrayal of KH to date!
Best portrayal of KH to date!


  • Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

In Defense of Katherine Howard Part 2: Victim, guilty, scapegoat or a little bit of everything?

Katherine Howard played by Lynne Frederick in Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)
Katherine Howard played by Lynne Frederick in Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)

After everything that has been said about Katherine Howard, there are many doubts that remain regarding her innocence. Say what you will but when you look at the dubious evidence, you realize that not only was she innocent of the crimes she was accused of, but also that unlike her first cousin Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers, she was never given a trial. Granted, the trial of Anne Boleyn wasn’t fair and neither was the one for her alleged lovers (among them her brother with whom she was accused of incest) but at least she got one. Katherine Howard never met her accusers, she never got the chance to defend herself and I have posted enough of Conor Byrne’s articles (whose recent biography of Katherine Howard is the best I have ever read) among many others of other authors that lay out the facts and explain the many factors that contributed to her downfall.

Most of her accusers, among them one of the Duchess Dowager’s servants, did not come forward until very late in Katherine Howard’s marriage with the king and her evidence says nothing about her liaison with Culpeper but rather about her first two relationships with Manox and Dereham which seemed to have been nothing more than abuse on their part.

The first ‘affair’ would have started when Katherine was very, very young and by that I mean, if we are to believe she was born around 1523-1524, twelve or thirteen. Around that time her cousin had fallen out of favor, the Howard family was on thin ice. It wasn’t just Anne and her brother who were beheaded, but one of her relatives would be locked up in the Tower for his relationship with none other than the king’s niece, aka Meg Douglas. Manox an opportunist at best, must have believed he could take advantage of a girl from a family that was no longer the second highest family in the land, and not only that, she wasn’t a wealthy heiress or the one likeliest to make a grand marriage. She had been sent to her step-grandmother’s, Agned Howard, house to be polished and turned into a respectable lady who could one day make a profitable marriage because marriage back then was everything. A woman rose or fell based on the man she married or the family she belonged to.

The events of 1536 however changed all that. At the Dowager Duchess’ household she learned about the virtues expected of noblewomen and to emulate other values, and learned skills that would be seen attractive in a wife. Katherine Howard’s later reputation corrupted the Dowager Duchess’ reputation but before that she was a prominent figure at court, she had played a central role in the coronation of Katherine’s first cousin Anne Boleyn and before that, she had been godmother to Princess Mary.
Being that Vives was an important thinker during the Tudor era and whose greatest patron was none other than Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon; his advice on young women, warning them against the advances of lechers or men who wanted to date them only for their money, would have been one of the many manuals she would have been given or told to memorize.

“During Anne Boleyn’s meteoric rise to the queenship that brought unprecedented favor to the Howard family undermined only by the queen’s spectacular downfall, her young cousin Katherine Howard embarked upon her first steps into the adult world through receiving music lessons in 1536, when she was aged around twelve years old, which would prepare her for a future as a skilled gentlewoman.” (Byrne).

As has been stated, her downfall did change everything and Katherine Howard found herself the target of the opportunistic Henry Manox who had been assigned to her by her step-grandmother as her music tutor.

“The relationship between Katherine and these two young men should be interpreted in context of sixteenth-century beliefs about female sexuality, honor codes, and the nature of the institution of marriage … It has been suggested, in light of this, that Katherine’s superior lineage and kinship to the Duke and Dowager Duchess meant that other individuals within the household who were aware of the nature of her relationship with Manox decided not to inform the Duchess against Katherine.” (Byrne)

But Byrne also adds that in the light of sixteenth century mentality, another reason why they didn’t report Manox’s intentions was because the nature of their relationship was nothing consensual, and a scandal of this sort would have ruined Katherine’s reputation. “For as Katherine’s inferior in status Manox had gravely overreached himself, which probably meant that Katherine’s acquaintance remained silent about the affair not only because they feared the consequences for Katherine due to her kinship relations and Howard lineage, but because the undertones of abuse, classed as deviant in early modern society, cast the honor of the Dowager Duchess into doubt for maintaining a household that allowed such acts to occur.”

When the indictments began, Manox, Dereham and many others were questioned. Manox reported that he had asked Katherine to let him show his love of her and Katherine who probably wanted to get away from him as soon as possible but who was afraid that if she said something, or if it was discovered what he did, her reputation would be ruined and also her step-grandmother’s, said that she could not give him any token of appreciation or let him show her his love because of their status, he was her inferior and she was his superior. It was a good way to remind him that he was aiming too high but her response did not seem to deter Manox and he continued to press Katherine until the Dowager Duchess discovered them or found out about his intentions and she dismissed him without making any fuzz, thus ensuring that no scandal would break out.
Mary Lascelles who was the star witness who brought the evidence regarding Katherine’s early sexual encounters to Cranmer, said she heard a rumor that the two were engaged but this is likely to be a lie. Katherine and the Dowager Duchess’ actions tell a different story. Mary nonetheless said that after she found out what Manox had done, she reprimanded him and told him “Man what mean though to play the fool of this fashion?”

After that incident, the Dowager Duchess moved her household to Lambeth where she and Katherine could have a new start but the odds were not meant to be in Katherine’s favor. In Lambeth she met Francis Dereham (who was a distant relative of the Howards) and who had previously been involved with Joan Bulmer, one of her companions. Before long, his attentions shifted to Katherine. Whether he heard from the maids’ lips whom he was often with, what happened between her and Manox or some exaggerated version of it, he decided to try his luck with Katherine. It was reported that the two were very much in love and that Katherine did consent to the affair, but given Katherine’s previous experience and her insecurities, she was likely to have done so out of fear or after he forced himself on her as was later reported.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, one thing is clear and that is that Katherine was the victim of sexual abuse, and we must remember that often times victims of sexual abuse will not come forward, not because they lack the courage, but because they are afraid of what might happen. This goes on today in many culture where the concept of ‘honor’ still prevails, also when it is family member or someone with a great reputation who has served your family faithfully, you are less likely to make an accusation and it is my belief based on my readings and her actions, that this is what happened here.
When Katherine married Henry VIII, she could have spilled her guts about her past. Why didn’t she? She probably felt the past was the past, and she would have been a fool to reject Henry VIII’s suit. No woman did and their marriage can’t be purely seen as an egotistical move by a vain teenager to surround herself with jewels and fabulous new gowns like it is often portrayed on pseudo-historical dramas like the Tudors. It was done for her family. Family meant everything back then. You married for your family’s benefit, you raised your children to be good wives or good husbands and politicians to benefit your family, that was how things worked back then and we can argue in some cultures it still works that way.

“There is little doubt that the marriage was a dazzling and unexpected career move for Katherine, but this is not to suggest she was anymore calculated or cynical than any other woman of her generation. She may not have been in love with Henry but she would have certainly have been in awe of him; of his status, his physical person and the whole theatre of royalty, of which he was the heart. The kind of love a subject might feel for a king, of respect, admiration and devotion, was prized more highly in the marital stakes than romantic attachment; in serving and pleasing Henry, a doting older husband, Katherine had fallen on her feet.” (Licence).

As Queen, Katherine fulfilled almost all of the roles expected of her as Henry’s consort. She pleaded for other’s lives, she went with Henry on progresses, behaved with grace and dignity expected in a royal consort, and despite her initial animosity towards the lady Mary, after the two had gone on the wrong foot, this soon evaporated after they were convinced by Henry and Chapuys respectively to make peace with each other. Katherine saw more of Mary as time passed and the two were on good terms by the end of 1540, having given each other gifts and other tokens of friendships. Also, Katherine was one of the very few royals who voiced opposition to the way Margaret Pole was being treated. Margaret Pole had been Mary Tudor’s governess and she had fallen from grace after her son Reginald made hostile remarks against Henry VIII following his marriage to Anne Boleyn (though the real catalyst in all of this had been the ‘Exeter plot’ that allegedly involved her family in a conspiracy to kill Henry and place her sons as the new rulers of England. Margaret was convicted along with most of her family based on scarcely any evidence; but the fact that she had strong Yorkist blood running through her veins and that she had been a supporter of the old religion and the late queen, Katherine of Aragon, was reason enough to execute them). Katherine Howard spared no expense for the poor Countess of Salisbury, she sent her own tailor and ordered new clothes for her, and in addition she also sent new shoes as Dan Jones points out in the prologue of his most recent book on the wars of the roses. But for all of Katherine Howard’s charity and advocacy for the old Countess, nothing could soften Henry’s heart and she died in May 1541 hacked to pieces by an inexperienced executioner.
Among those she pleaded for, who were more fortunate, was Sir Thomas Wyatt, the poet who had written beautiful poems in memory of his lost love, her first cousin and her alleged lovers. In the early 1540s he had been imprisoned for conspiring with one of the Poles. Henry granted her request “releasing the poet on the condition that he should return to his estranged wife of fifteen years.” Also, Licence adds that when Katherine went on her first progress with Henry, she received a splendid reception, Chapuys’ letters chronicle this, how the people were happy to see their new queen and the Tower guns saluted her. That same year in May 1541, Chapuys added how Katherine convinced Henry to visit his only son who was only two and a half at the time and resided at Waltham Holy Cross. The queen did her best to reconcile the royal family, but before long her past came back to haunt her.

Her past affairs were one thing but her current one was treason, and it has been romanticized endlessly but it was not the love affair that novelists write about or that we saw in the Tudors. Katherine was no lust-driven, mindless teenager (even if she did sleep with Culpeper, for a girl her age being married to a man who was more than twice her age, it must have been frustrated and she was under heavy pressure to provide a heir, but the evidence for their affair is not concise), she was very aware of her bloodline and the role she was to play, and most of all that she was there to aggrandize her family’s fortunes and give the king a son.

In the latter she failed, Marillac (the French Ambassador) reported at the beginning of her reign that she was pregnant but this turned out to be false, likely a phantom pregnancy or wishful thinking on both of them.

Thomas Culpeper was the attractive man that the Tudors showed, in that they got it right, and what they also got right was that he was not the romantic hero of fiction, but a shady character with a shady past. There were allegations of rape; her recent biographer believes that this could have been misinterpreted and it actually meant his older brother (who was also named Thomas –don’t you just love how everyone had the same name?) who did the deed. Regardless if it was him or his older brother, Thomas did pursue Katherine. Whether he heard of the rumors from one of her former maids or because of the blood-relation they had; Thomas thought he could get away with it, and why not when he had a successful career at court and it was currently on the rise.
Culpeper no doubt approached Lady Rochford (the widow of George Boleyn) first, “and probably blackmailed her into allowing him to meet with the queen and impose his demands on her” (Byrne). According to Culpeper, when they first met on April 1541, she gave him “by her own hands a fair cap of velvet garnished with a brooch and three dozen pairs of aglets and a chain”; but she warned him to hide these items and prevent anyone from seeing them. Culpeper who was annoyed that his attentions had gotten him nowhere pressed her, and told her he needed more than just that but Katherine continued to deny him any more affection, instead of buying him with gifts to stay away.

What Culpeper likely saw as the two previous men had, was an insecure but yet proud woman who did not want any trouble and who thought she would get in trouble for just talking to him.

As for Katherine’s letter which has been seen as clear evidence of her guilt Licence weighs in on this: “It begins conventionally enough –Master Culpeper, I heartily recommend me unto you, praying you to send me word how that you do- but develops into something more personal, as the queen has taken considerable ‘pain … in writing to you’ and had ‘heard that you were sick and never longed so much for anything as to see you and speak with you, the which I trust shall be shortly now’ …” It can also be seen in many ways too. Noblewomen often used very elegant, if not eloquent and chivalric language to express their gratitude towards someone. This fancy way of writing was very proper of nobles, especially noblewomen and royal women. “The game of courtly love flourished at the Tudor court and was viewed as a popular social convention in which young, well-born ladies participated with handsome knights in witty exchanged …The knight was expected to serve his lady, obey her commands and gratify her whims. Obedience and loyalty to the high-ranking lady were viewed as critical, while that lady was firmly unavailable by virtue of her status and was consequently inclined to be remote, haughty and imperious …”

There is no contemporary image that has accurately been identified as Katherine Howard. All that's known about her appearance was that she was no beauty but she had "superlative grace" meaning she was pleasant to be around with and had light red hair and was thin. That's about it. This has been attributed to being Katherine because of the jewels and it could be but it could also be Meg Douglas, Henry VIII's niece.
There is no contemporary image that has accurately been identified as Katherine Howard. All that’s known about her appearance was that she was no beauty but she had “superlative grace” meaning she was pleasant to be around with and had light red hair and was thin. That’s about it. This has been attributed to being Katherine because of the jewels and it could be but it could also be Meg Douglas, Henry VIII’s niece.

Katherine would not have been the only queen, nor the last, to engage in these courtly exchanges. Her niece and youngest stepdaughter would do so as well when she became queen, her letters to Leicester, Robert Dudley, are living proof of that. Anne Boleyn engaging in courtly love as well, and before her other queens such as her predecessor, were seen as acceptable. Nonetheless, at this point Henry’s court was not what it once was. The summer Prince was gone; and there was suspicion everywhere.

“Ladies within Katherine’s household, including Lady Margaret Douglas and her own cousin Mary Howard, had engaged in similar pastimes encouraged at the Tudor court … The giving of gifts to Culpeper might indicate Katherine’s desire to become better acquainted with him, for although he was kin to her, because he served within the household of her husband she probably knew very little of him. It is likelier, however, that this experienced courtier promised silence in return for the queen bestowing lavish gifts upon him … As other wealthy noblewomen participated in social and literary exchanges concerned with courtly love with other gentlemen, Katherine might have believed that, following Queen Anne’s example, her political position as queen and her social position as mistress of her household permitted her to engage in similar exchanges.” (Byrne)

But this didn’t work and Katherine’s mistake was not seeing through Thomas’ character enough. There was no hint of their so called amorous affair before her downfall; and most of the evidence was based on her previous liaisons with Manox and Dereham. Several factors went into her downfall and it was not her stupidity or her inexperience but rather the factions at court, or groups that detested the Howard and had their own religious agenda. Katherine never said anything on religion, her opinion was blank and it was likely to stay that way because she wanted to play the role of the passive wife. But Cranmer and others had other ideas, her downfall really centers on her association with the Howards, her family and that they were in direct opposition with many fronts at court.

According to one of her ladies she agreed that the queen was committing treason with Culpeper, it is possible given the intense psychological pressure that many of her ladies went through (as those of her first cousin Anne had gone through) they just wanted to agree with whatever her interrogators said; if they knew what was good to them, they would not want to be involved with their mistress any longer –it didn’t matter to them if she was innocent or not.
Jane Parker, Lady Rochford has been very maligned and seen as this vindictive, humorless and cold-hearted woman, but her confession was likely done under duress. She had known what had happened to her husband and sister in law, she had lived through that, she was a survivor and she knew how far these people would use the law or whatever other method they had in store, to get what they wanted. Unfortunately Jane as Katherine wasn’t saved.
The two of them were damned and sentenced to die in 13 February 1542. First Katherine, then Jane. They were executed in the same spot where Katherine’s cousin had been six years earlier and also buried in the Tower’s chapel in St. Peter ad Vincula.

Katherine's burial spot at St. Peter ad Vncula.
Katherine’s burial spot at St. Peter ad Vncula.


  • Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne
  • Wicked Women by Retha Warnicke
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey

In Defense of Katherine Howard Part 1: Mean Girl or Victim of Fate

Sarah Bolger as Mary Tudor (left) and Tamzin Merchant as Kitty Howard (right).
Sarah Bolger as Mary Tudor (left) and Tamzin Merchant as Kitty Howard (right).
The anniversary of her execution has come and gone and there have been just about every kind of nasty comment about her. Henry’s little sex kitten. She was stupid enough to lose her head! What was Henry VIII thinking marrying that teenager? Didn’t he learn anything from Anne Boleyn? She was so mean to Mary! Poor Mary.
Kitty Howard didn’t die because of her own stupidity, there were many other factors, mainly that the Howards had powerful enemies at this point and Cranmer and his faction did everything that they could, prosecuting her mercilessly and bringing her past up in such a way that it has followed her after her death. But let’s meet Kitty, the real Kitty not the Tudors and countless other messed up versions of her.”No will but his” This was Kitty’s motto. Clearly not the motto from a stupid girl. Note how similar it was to Jane Seymour’s, Henry’s third consort. Kitty was no super model but she possessed “superlative grace”. She tried to bring the Tudor family together but she had many enemies and her relation to Anne Boleyn doomed her would-have-been-good relationship with Mary Tudor, the King’s eldest and yet-to-be married daughter. Something that sparked jealousy on Mary’s part because she was not much older than her and her father still considered her a threat -and always would!- and until he had another son in the cradle, she knew she would not marry. In the show Kitty haughtily replies as a mean girl from ‘Mean Girls’ with a ha-ha voice while her brainless ladies laugh behind her that she will always be an old maid and like that *snaps fingers* she gives her a killer smile and walks out! And everyone loves her for it. Yeah that’s so true …


The real Kitty Howard was not an attention seeker drama queen crying like a little baby every time things didn’t go her way. In real life we know as much about her as we do of Jane Seymour.
Kitty was no fool. She wasn’t serious like Jane or exotic like Anne, or cosmopolitan and educated like half of Henry’s wives but she didn’t need to be. She was a Howard and while she grew under the careless guardianship of Agnes Tilney -her step-grandmother and Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, she knew what she was getting into. Her husband married her on the day he executed Cromwell. She knew what to expect and yet why did she act so stupidly? She didn’t, not in her mind at least. If we think being a teenager is difficult, try being one in Tudor times. She was probably raped by one of her earliest dalliances and she foolishly promised to marry another one, yet promises were made and unmade all the time. As Queen she knew she had to have a spotless record and she tried very hard to do so. As I previously stated, she did her best to get along with ALL of Henry’s family and she did a lot for her stepdaughter, Lady Elizabeth. At every court function she behaved with every ounce dignity expected in a Queen of England. There is a grain of truth to the stories of her dismissing two of Mary’s maids. But as upset as she was at Mary or Mary at her, none would have behaved that way to each other. It would’ve been beneath them. And yet dramatists love to make these women hostile to each other. (A trend I notice in every history drama. If there are two women who disagree over something then let’s have them unleash their claws at each other and spark the drama by having them go at each other like you’d see in a high school soap opera).
Chapuys later learned what happened and advised Mary to make peace with the Queen and she did. By the end of that year there were no more reports, the women sorted it out. But Kitty wasn’t off the royal hook. Her past caught up with her and a teenager under pressure to bring her husband a Duke of York or else face her cousin’s terrible fate; she caved in. There’s no basis after she was questioned and sentenced to die that said she would’ve preferred to be Ms. Culpeper than Ms. Henry VIII. Claire Ridgway in her book The Anne Boleyn Collection v.1 explains where this myth came from. What is true is that Thomas Culpeper didn’t do much for Kitty Howard. He was a detestable character and it was said that he had raped a woman before he became Kitty’s lover. In the Boleyn Inheritance there’s less justice done to Kitty as she is described from Jane Parker’s POV that she faints when she’s about to face execution. Katherine Howard never fainted, neither did she cry or wet herself or wear that crazy braid. She had ordered the block where she would lay her head on to be brought to her so she could practice, and when she faced her execution she behaved as her cousin did six years before.

  • Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne
  • Wicked Women by Retha Warnicke
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey