On the same day of Thomas Cromwell’s execution, Henry VIII married the teenager, Katherine Howard at Oatlands Palace located in Surrey. Presiding over the ceremony was the Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner. The ceremony was a low-key affair since Henry had just annulled his marriage with Anne of Cleves. The couple were married at Oatlands Palace. The couple spent the night in an ornate “pearl bed” which had been brought from Greenwich Palace specifically for this occasion. They did not announce their marriage until August 8th at Hampton Court Palace. The French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac, reported that ‘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.’
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licences
On July the 28th 1540, Thomas Cromwell was executed at Tower Hill. He was one of Henry’s most devoted servants and yet he, like so many others, met the same end. One day before his death, he was visited by the archbishop of Canterbury [Thomas Cranmer] and Seymour to inform him of his death-sentence. Seymour added that “it was God’s will that you should live no longer. It seems you have learned well from the Cardinal.”
The reason for his imprisonment had been the King’s fourth marriage, a disastrous union which he did his best to make it better, but failed. And not only that, Cromwell had exaggerated on Anne’s grace and beauty, not to mention that he was doing a lot of things outside the King’s knowledge, and his Reformist tendencies outraged many Catholics, as well as his imposition over every noble family (regardless of their faith). When Cromwell was arrested on June the Tenth of that year, he tried to free himself from his captors, by imploring the council to remember all that he had done, and the power he had wielded, but his eloquence wasn’t enough to cause fear or doubt on any of them. His time had passed, and he knew it. Two weeks later, the marriage he had helped create, was annulled. Anne consented with the decree and wrote a letter of submission to the king, telling him that “though this case be most hard and sorrowful for me, for the great love which I bear your most noble person, yet having more regard to God and his truth, than to any worldly affection, I acknowledge myself hereby to accept the proof of the same.” She went on to repeat herself when she wrote to her brother later that month. She was later referred to as the King’s Sister and given expensive properties, making her one of the richest women in England.
Cromwell beseeched the King, writing to him, that he had been his most loyal servant, and everything he had done, had done it to serve the crown at the best of his knowledge. Yet Henry did with him as he did with all the other people he had put to death whenever they wrote or pleaded with him to save them; he ignored him. Stripped of all his titles and privileges he was condemned to die at Tower Hill instead of Tower Green which was usually reserved for the high-born. The message could not be clearer: As he had born to nothing, he would die being nothing.
On the way to the block, he met with the deranged Lord Hungerford, a former protégé of his, whose crime had been harboring a member from the pilgrimage of Grace, his wife had appealed to Cromwell but Cromwell, being loyal to the king, did nothing to help his old friend. Now in an ironic twist of fate, the two were to die on the same day. Cromwell, feeling sorry for him, tried to comfort him by saying “there is no cause for you to fear. If you repent and be heartily sorry for what you have done, there is for you mercy from the Lord, who for Christ’s sake, will forgive you.” But his words did little to comfort him. As Thomas Cromwell walked to the platform, he addressed the crowds:
“Good people, I have come here to die and not to purge myself, as some may think that I will. For if I should do so, I would be a wretch and a miser, a miserable man. I am by the law condemned to die and thank my Lord God that has appointed me this death for my offence. For since the time that I have had years of discretion, I have lived as a sinner and have offended my Lord God, for which I ask Him heartily for forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you that I have been a great traveler in the world but being of a base degree, was called to high state … Since the time I came there unto, I have offended my prince, for which I also ask him for hearty amnesty. I beseech you all to pray to God with me that he will forgive me. Oh father, forgive me; Oh Son, forgive me; Oh Holy Ghost, forgive me; Oh three Persons and one God, forgive me.”
Then to dispel the rumors that he was a Lutheran, he added:
“And now I pray you that be here, to bear record that I die in the Catholic faith, not doubting any article of my faith nor doubting any sacrament of the church. Many have slandered me and reported that I have been a bearer of those who have maintained evil opinions, which is untrue. But I confess that as God, by His Holy Spirit, instructs us in the truth, so the devil is ready to seduce us- and I have been seduced. Bear witness that I die in the Catholic faith of the Holy Church. I heartily desire you to pray for the King’s grace and that he may long live with you in health and prosperity and after him, that his son, Prince Edward, that goodly imp, may long reign over you. And once again, I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remains in this flesh, I waver nothing in my faith.”
This last confession was probably done to save his reputation, which he knew would be stained by the nobles. And reputation, even for dead men, was everything. If not for himself, then for his descendants, namely Gregory. He did not wish his bad name to stain the reputation of his son and family. Though some might judge him as a hypocrite and an opportunist, let us remember that everyone was a pragmatist (one way or another) back then. Cromwell played the game very well, more than any other player, but like his predecessor, he had flaws, and his belief that he was so secure that he could do whatever he wanted (including exaggerating on Anne of Cleves’ beauty and grace, to get the King into an alliance that would benefit his faith and increase his power) as well as the nobles’ envy of seeing a nobody rise to such a position of power, caused his demise.
Finally, kneeling down to meet his ultimate fate, he prayed: “Oh Lord, grant me that when these eyes lose their use, that the eyes of my soul may see Thee. Oh Lord and father, when this mouth shall lose his use that my heart may say ‘O Pater, in mamus tuas commendo spiritum meum’” the asked the people to pray for the king, his son “and for all the lords of the council and for the clergy and for the commonalty. Now I beg you again that you will pray for me.” Spotting Thomas Wyatt the Elder, he called out to him, asking him to pray for him as well and told him not to weep “for if I were not more guilty than you were when they took you, I should not be in this pass.” He lastly turned to the executioner begging him “to cut off the head with one blow, so that I may not suffer.” Sadly, this was not to be.
His executioner, described as a “ragged and butcherly wretch”, delivered various blows to his skull and neck before he finally severed his head. While some despaired, others rejoiced. Henry Howard, the son and heir of the Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of the Queen-to-be, said of Cromwell that “the false churl is dead … Now he is stricken with his own staff.” Cromwell’s headless body was buried at the church of St Peter ad Vincula, the same place where Anne Boleyn was buried. His head was stuck on a pole on top of London’s bridge. On that same day, Henry VIII married Katherine Howard.
Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Boarman
On the 13th of February of 1542, Katherine Howard and her lady in waiting, Jane Parker were put to death. The two were executed on the same spot Anne Boleyn had been executed and also buried at the Tower’s chapel in St. Peter ad Vincula.
Before her execution she said to her confessor, the Bishop of Lincoln, that “as to the act, my reverend lord, for which I stand condemned, God and his holy angels I take to witness, upon my soul’s salvation, that I died guiltless, never having so abused my sovereign’s bed. What other sins and follies of youth I have committed I will not excuse; but I am assured that for them God hath brought this punishment upon me, and will, in his mercy, remit them, for which, I pray you, pray with me unto his Son and my Savior, Christ.” Conor Byrne and Retha Warnicke in their respective biographies of Katherine Howard, and other royal and courtier’s wives; make the case that while the evidence against her was scant, she is continuously presented as guilty.
But out of all the portrayals we’ve seen on TV, the worst is that of Tamzin Merchant in “The Tudors”. She is mean girl from head to toe, and she knows it and revels in teasing Mary and anyone she can get her hands on. She is like a modern day giggly cheerleader her father has married and tells Mary that while she is old and ugly (and will never marry) she is hot and young and that is why she hates her.
“You are jealous.” She says with that annoying smirk, hands on her hips. Her ladies then proceed to laugh, looking as brainless than ever. They are just there to please their Queen Bee.
The event has some basis in reality. Katherine Howard did get upset that Mary wasn’t giving her the proper respect she deserved and dismissed two of her maids, but the two later reconciled.
As Queen, Katherine advocated for many prisoners, including Mary’s old governess, the Countess of Salisbury and sent her own tailor to make sure she would have new clothes. She saved Thomas Wyatt from being executed. Everything that she was nothing out of the ordinary for queen consorts at this time.
Her lady in waiting has been no luckier. Jane Boleyn [nee Parker] aka Lady Rochford has also been the negative propaganda. Now we know differently, that she didn’t hate her husband or her sister-in-law, but for some reason, fiction still continues to portray her as a serpentine, diabolical, resentful, and vindictive woman. The real Lady Rochford was all the contrary and very close to the Boleyns and as the recent biography of her by Fox and her husband biography by Ridgway and Cherry show, she was very close to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn and Anne asked for her… help when her husband was having an affair with one of her ladies, possibly the “Imperial Lady” that Chapuys refers to in his letters who was sympathetic to Mary and her mother’s plight. She did NOT give any evidence against George Boleyn. If she had, Chapuys would have said so from the beginning. Would a man who had every reason to hate Anne at this moment, have missed this? Hell no. For some reason he didn’t and that is because she did not say anything. If she did, assuming she was interrogated, she would have done her best to save her husband. This was a highly political game, and everyone was looking to save their own skins. But Jane never provided any evidence against her husband and the rest of her in-laws. The person who condemned George and Anne was a certain “Lady”. Chapuys and others refer to her as the woman or the Lady, this person was none other than the Lady Exeter.
Jane acted as chaperone to Katherine Howard. It is possible that Katherine, despite excelling greatly at her position, was still an inexperienced player and believed all of Culpeper’s threats that he would denounce her previous liaisons with the King, asked her to. In this world it didn’t matter that her previous liaisons were not liaisons at all and she had been raped. Female virtue was at the top of everything. Many times women who were raped, were blamed. Some noblewomen or royal women could not afford such a scandal because then nobody would want to marry them, or worse, their families’ honor would be put into question and they would be blamed. Jane’s involvement in Katherine’s comings and goings, and helping her meet Culpeper to bribe him into keeping his silence though, ended badly for her too. According to one eye-witness who was present at Jane’s execution, he said to his brother that she had “made the most godly and Christian end that ever was heard” and had made her peace with God and like her late sister-in-law, asked “all the Christian people to take regard unto their worthy and just punishment for their offences against God” and that if she and Kitty were condemned to die it was because they sinned and deserved to die. Katherine was the first one to go, then Jane.
Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Jualia Fox
Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne
Wicked Women by Retha Warnicke
The Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway
The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence.
The way Amy Licence writes the story of the wives and the mistresses is so unique and beautiful and this is a must-read for everyone that hasn’t read about the wives yet. Amy starts with setting the stage by explaining about the different beliefs regarding sex, conception, and the many methods …used in each. Religion also played an important part in this period, so a lot of the book focuses on the religious aspect from Catholicism to the different sects of Protestantism that were taking over England. The book dedicates a huge chunk on Henry’s first wives and deconstructing these women from what is believed to what actually happened. There were many other things that I wasn’t completely aware of this period that blew my mind when I found out. And this is how Amy writes, she does it in such a way that she dispels all the myths regarding these elusive figures, namely the women who are still seen through a male objective lens. She starts by Katherine of Aragon, including all the important details regarding her education, her preparation for her future role as Princess then Queen of England to all the contributions she did when she finally became queen, from being a great patroness of artists and humanists, to being the first of Henry’s wives to become Regent and on top of that, enjoy a very amorous and passionate relationship with him. The image that we have of Katherine as prude and old is not very accurate. As she got older she did become more pious and secluded from the material world -though she still enjoyed many of his banquets and participated in the jousts, observing her husband ride like he was still the passionate youth from his younger days. But in her youth she was a highly pragmatic, energetic, passionate and attractive young woman who probably caught Henry’s attention since he led her down the aisle to marry his older brother, the crown heir, Arthur. But there was also another aspect to Katherine and that was that in her years of political limbo, when her father’s enmity with her older sister and her husband forced her to be stranded on England with little to no help from anybody, made her highly dependent on her lecherous priest Friar Diego which in turn, turned out to damage her reputation for a while.
This is not to say that Katherine wasn’t strong. She was but she was also human and very young at the time and with her mother gone, her father and sister far away and at war with each other, she had very few people she could trust, and there was also that cunning and ambitious element of her that is often neglected. Katherine did everything she could after her father came with a temporal solution to alleviate her status by making her his unofficial ambassador. She sought Henry out more, she ingratiated herself with his sister, made sure she was pleasing to both of them, especially the young boy who turned out to be more handsome and athletic than his late brother at his age. By all means, crowned jointly and enjoying equal status, Katherine believed her marriage would be successful but two things happened: Her new year baby died and she suffered a horde of miscarriages and as she did, she also lost her figure and as her looks faded Henry turned his attention to other women. And this is where the author provides evidence that defies the notion that Henry was a prude with only two official mistresses.
Henry wasn’t the libertine monarch that Francis was. He didn’t flaunt his mistresses in Katherine’s face or showed them off to everyone or gave them official status of mistresses as he did. Henry, always concerned with his image, was cautious and with a great network of servants who were willing to do anything to please their king, they helped him keep most of these affairs secret. But occasionally word got out and on two of these occasions it put a strain on his first marriage. Katherine was humble and loyal but she could not accept at first that there was another woman besides her sharing her husband’s bed, she didn’t believe his servant was sleeping with Anne Hastings and argued ferociously with Henry about it but she soon became pliant and docile but her anger turned up again after he had a son with Bessie Blount which he showed off to prove that the fault lay in Katherine not in him for his lack of legitimate sons. Katherine’s discomfort became well known when Henry ennobled him with titles and mansions and gave him almost equal status to that of her daughter.
The most opposition that Henry would face however would not come from his first wife but from Anne. Katherine despite failing to keep her anger and hatred over his affairs secret at times, was true to her motto of ‘Humble and Loyal’ and became beloved by the people for the charity work she did, her time as Regent defending the English borders from the Scots and emulating the virtues that were expected of women -especially royal consorts- at the time. Anne was very different in that respect. She was a cosmopolitan and highly energetic and like Katherine, highly educated woman who sported different religious ideas and whose path with him might not have been intentional as Amy Licence points out. After all, who could refuse the king of England? Nobody. Anne’s strong moral convictions and her refusal of Thomas Wyatt years before, as well as learning from experience after Wolsey had broken up her intended union with Percy, echoed those found in Vives’ books that women had to be on the look out for men’s attentions and refuse any sexual advances. Yet, the author also defies the notion that Henry abstained himself from sex the entire time and the proof of this once again lies in the contemporary sources listing the women present at the time who served or whose husband served Henry and whom he might have fathered illegitimate children with.
Anne’s tragic fall from grace lay in her failure to deliver (as her predecessor) a son. Shortly after her brother and alleged lovers and her own execution, Henry remarried. His third wife, Jane Seymour is more of a mystery and I wish there was at least one more chapter dedicated to her but this is possibly owed to the fact that her reign was very short. However she does dedicate a great deal of attention regarding the time of her son’s conception to Edward’s birth and her death and the possible causes for it. It is well known that Jane died of childbed fever but what led to it? At the time of the birth she was attended by male doctors who did not have the experience or knowledge that midwives did. It is at this point that women stories start to get omitted and women’s labor changes drastically because of it. Midwifery is start to be seen as superstitious whereas ‘learned’ men such as doctors are the new norm. Unfortunately theory is very different from practice and if they had just bothered to ask one of their female counterparts for directions like washing their hands, etc, Jane could have avoided her death.
Between the period of his mourning and courting for royal matches, Henry might have been spending time with other women and this is not such as a stretch as we have seen by the earlier examples. But as a king he needed to marry and unlike two of his wives, he needed a royal match to cement an alliance and the lucky bride was Anne of Cleves whom he later declared was unattractive and that she was not a virgin just by looking at her. The notion is so ridiculous as Amy notes, yet once Henry’s mind was made up, it was made up! And what could you do about it? Poor Anne of Cleves knew very little about the country she was about to get married in. She had been pre-contracted to the Duke of Lorraine and that was used as an excuse to annul her marriage. As a girl she had been trained to be the perfect duchess, not a queen. When she reached Calais her brother wrote to Wriothesley and other royal officials to teach her sister of the English ways and they did just that, but they failed in teaching her about the masques that her future husband loved to engage in. This one omission made a great difference. When Henry met her in disguise, Anne had no idea he was the king and turned away from him coldly exclaiming she didn’t find his attentions funny. This was the whole catalyst for his dislike of her. His next wife was the contrary. She was energetic, to his judgment she was a virgin, and like his third wife Jane Seymour she adopted a similar motto that was meant to express she would be the perfect docile wife. But her past soon caught up with her and when Henry was told of it in a letter he devastated. Katherine Howard would share the same gruesome fate as her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. But her relationship with Thomas Culpeper is also put into question. Was it sexual or just platonic? We will probably never know.
The last wife to take the center stage is the rich (twice) widowed, Katherine Parr. Like the first Katherine she inspired confidence and she was kind, humble and loyal. She was married to Henry for nearly four years, his second longest marriage. She encouraged him to see his children more and she was partly responsible for reinstating Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession. And far from the ‘nurse’ stereotype that is attached to her figure, she was an educated, highly pragmatic and religious advocate whose work helped fast forward the Reform movement in England.
Like with all her books, Amy Licence lays out the facts for you but it is up to you to make the decision whether you believe them or not.
This book is a great addition to the Tudor shelves and to women’s histories which she tells in such a way that hasn’t been told before.