Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and I of Spain arrived at Dover, England on the 26th of May 1522, where he was greeted by Cardinal and Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey and an entourage of 300 select Englishmen. Henry VIII met with him two days later “with much joy and gladness” while he was still at Dover.
Henry VIII had been eager to meet with his nephew since he saw him as a powerful ally against France, and his vehicle to regain some of the territories his country had lost under Henry VI. Like many Englishmen, Henry VIII had a romantic idea of the past, where he aspired like his namesake, Henry V, whose victory and conquest of France was legendary. Calais was the last of England’s stronghold in France and Henry was anxious to make a name for himself as when he went to war with his wife’s father, Charles V’s grandfather, Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Unfortunately for Henry, once the war started, he would discover that not much had changed and just as before, he would become disillusioned with Catherine’s family.
To seal their alliance, Charles V agreed to marry Henry VIII’s only heir, his first cousin, Princess Mary. Mary was six at the time while Charles was twenty-two. The legal age for men and women to marry would be in their early teens. Given Mary’s age, both parties agreed that it would be better to way until she was twelve or older.
Henry VIII and Charles celebrated the Feast of the Ascension there and afterwards, Henry VIII gave him a private tour on board one of his greatest ships “Henry by the Grace of God” and the “Mary Rose”. Charles V marveled at these two ships, something that The Tudors, despite all its inaccuracies, accurately depicted when Charles tells Henry that it surpasses every ship he owns.
After the naval tour, Henry took his guest and his entourage to Canterbury where they were greeted by the city mayor and the aldermen before they went inside the cathedral, their swords of state carried before them.
On the 31st he was Sittingbourne. On the 1st of June, Rochester, on the 2nd, Gravesend where he traveled by barge to the Palace of Placentia, otherwise known as Greenwich. There, he met what would in alternate universe would have been his future wife, his cousin, Princess Mary.
The Holy Roman Emperor was first greeted by his uncle and then at the hall door by his aunt, Queen Katharine and Princess Mary in the Spanish custom -which was Katharine giving her blessing to her nephew to marry her daughter after he had asked for it.
Since day one, Katharine encouraged her daughter’s enthusiasm. This was the union that she always hoped for, and one would that strengthen ties between England and Spain against what she saw as their common enemy -France.
For Henry, this must have felt momentous as well. Since Katharine was unable to provide him with any more heirs. His hope of securing the throne for his descendants now rested “for the birth of a male heir in the next generation”.*
As previously stated, Princess Mary was six-years-old at the time and it is hard to know what she must have felt. Perhaps she felt happy at being betrothed to someone of such importance, or perhaps being the princess that she was and her father’s heir, she put on a plastic smile to please her mother.
From early childhood, she had been taught that one day she would be Queen -until her mother gave birth to a son, that is- and as Queen Regnant she would have to produce sons. And who better than with someone of impeccable royal descent as Charles?
Charles was enchanted with his little cousin. He gave her a pony to ride and a goshawk and she in turn led him to a window so he could see his presents -horses, of the finest breed, she boasted. She then entertained him and his entourage by showing off her musical skills, playing the spinet and performing a galliard (a French dance).
“Perhaps when Charles arrived she wore some of the jewelry that had been specially made for her, an impressive brooch with the name Charles on it, or another with The Emperor picked out in lettering.” (Porter, The Myth of Bloody Mary)
Charles stayed in Greenwich for four more days. On the 6th he and Henry VIII emerged from the Palace of Placentia and rode through London on a magnificent procession that was akin to the Field of Cloth and Gold that had taken place two years earlier between Henry and Francis I of France.
Before arriving to the city they stopped at a tent of cloth and gold where they donned their clothes for something more flamboyant. To demonstrate their commitment and mutual friendship, the two dressed identically in suits of cloth of gold lined with silver decorations. They were preceded by English and Spanish courtiers riding side by side as equals, just as their sovereigns. Sir Thomas More greeted them, delivering a speech in which he praised in a style similar to when he praised Katharine and Henry on their joint coronation.
At Southwark, the two were welcomed by the representatives of the clergy. When they reached King’s Bench, the Emperor asked Henry VIII to pardon as many prisoners as they could. This was similar to what his aunt had done in the aftermath of the Evil May Day Riots, even after some of the rebels protested against foreigners, including the much beloved queen. And just as before, Henry conceded. As they resumed their progress, they were met by nine pageants. One pageant impressed the Emperor. This one features the monarchs’ emblems, next to each were two of the greatest heroes of Greek and biblical mythology: Hercules and Samson. Charles was compared to the demigod Hercules while Henry VIII was compared to the equally strong and fearsome Samson.
Charles wrote to the Abbot of Najera the following day, describing to him his experience, noting that after seeing Henry’s fleet, he had become convinced that the two could take on France easily.
On the 8th of June, Henry and Charles made their last stroll through the city before they retreated to their respective quarters. It was during his stay at Greenwich and his processions through London that Charles got to know his betrothed and make up for lost time with his aunt, with the two growing very fond of one another.
On the 9th, Charles traveled to Richmond Palace and on the 10th on Hampton Court, which was one of Henry’s favorite residences and one of the architectural jewels from the Tudor era that still survives. Charles V would continue to be greeted by grand ceremony, and move from palace to palace, in an effort to make the young Emperor and King of Spain feel at home. His journey would come to an end on the middle of July, with both parties swearing to honor their agreement by pledging ships, men and a hand in marriage to seal the deal.
Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
Williams, Patrick. Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife. Amberley. 2013.
Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine Books. 2012.
Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and his Court. Ballantine Books. 2001.
Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England on the 1st of June 1533. It was a joyous occasion for her and Henry VIII, who had arranged for her to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward (a crown reserved for Kings; queens were crowned with the smaller crown of St. Edith) so there would be no question about the legitimacy of their unborn heir.
Many poems were done that celebrated this event. Among the most prominent was Nichollas Udall’s which celebrated her lineage and exalted her insignia of the white falcon crowned.
“This White Falcon, rare and geason, This bird shineth so bright; Of all that are, Of this bird can write.
No man earthly enough truly
can praise this Falcon White.
Who will express great gentleness
to be in any wight [man];
He will not miss,
But can call him this
The gentle Falcon White.
This gentle bird as white as curd
Shineth both day and night;
Nor far nor near is nay peer
Unto this Falcon White,
Of body small, of power regal
She is, and sharp of sight;
Of courage hault
No manner fault is in this Falcon White,
In chastity excelleth she,
Most like a virgin bright:
And worthy is to live in bliss
Always this Falcon White.
But now to take
And use her make
Is time, as troth is plight;
That she may bring fruit according
For such a Falcon White.
And where by wrong,
She hath fleen long,
Uncertain where to light;
Upon the Rose,
Now many this Falcon White.
Whereon to rest,
And build her nest;
GOD grant her, most of might!
That England may rejoice as always
In this same Falcon White.”
Nicholas Udall was an English poet who like Anne and several others at the time, was part of a group of people who were sympathetic towards the Protestant Reformation and as time went by, he became one of the strongest supporters of the Anglican church, being widely favored during Edward VI’s reign.
His poem celebrating Anne Boleyn’s coronation were one of many honoring other like-minded figures. But like the subject of his epic poem, Nicholas Udall’s life was also paved with controversy. That same year, he was accused of mistreating his students and charged with buggery. If found guilty, he would have been sentenced to die by hanging. Luckily for him, he had friends in Thomas Cromwell’s circle (whose star was on the rise) and they helped him by lessening his sentence to less than a year.
Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Blackwell. 2005.
Norton, Elizabeth. The Boleyn Women: The Tudor Femme Fatales Who Changed English History. Amberly. 2013.
Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Murder. Manipulation. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
On the 31st of May 1443 Margaret Beaufort was born at Bletsoe Castle, Bedforshire to Margaret Beauchamp and John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. John Beaufort suffered from a terrible reputation and lacked leadership skills which, according to some of his contemporaries, led him to commit suicide when Margaret was only one. Margaret grew very close to her maternal family, her half-siblings and her step-family when her mother married for a third and last time. Margaret Beauchamp was firstly married to Sir Oliver St. John. On his death in 1437, she remarried to John Beaufort four years later. The two only had one child (Margaret). Following his death and possible suicide, she acquired a new license to remarry four years later. It is a myth that Margaret was resentful of her family. The White Queen plays feeds on negative rumors and propaganda written against Margaret during her lifetime and centuries after her death. One of her many critics was none other than Bacon who wrote during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. You might ask why would a man writing for two direct descendants of Henry VII would write against the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. The answer is religion. The religious landscape of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries had changed. England had been largely Catholic for over a thousand years. Suddenly one day, Henry VIII decides to change everything, claiming that his conscience would not let him rest until he did what was right –and from his view this meant getting himself an annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Henry believed his first marriage was tainted because he had married his brother’s wife and according to Leviticus this was a sin. Never mind that in another book, it said it was okay. Henry was a man who was going to get what he wanted and in the end that is what happened. As a result, Margaret turned from devoted mother of the Tudor Dynasty’s first monarch, scholar, and religious matron to wicked stepmother. Suddenly she was being accused of using witchcraft against her enemies and the last Plantagenet King who had previously been demonized by the Tudors, was now idolized with Margaret being the main culprit behind the Princes in the Tower’s disappearance. (We will never know what happened to the Princes. Even if we find the bodies –as some historians are pressing the public to rise up in their defense, to call for the urn that was uncovered under the steps in the Tower in the seventeenth century to be examined to see once and for all if that is them- it won’t give us any answers).
The real Margaret Beaufort was human and as all humans, a very complex figure. For those that see her as a tyrannical being, I should point out that when her son became King, she commended some of her servants who had served the previous King –Richard III- for their loyalty to him. Furthermore, she continued with her religious devotion and did as so many others of her predecessors (Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily Neville, royal mothers themselves too) had done, endowing universities and adding new ones.
But before Margaret’s rise to fame, her road ahead was filled with many obstacles.
After her father died, Henry VI decreed that her mother couldn’t take care of her (despite that she had other children she had taken care of before Margaret was born) and gave her custody to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Some have accused Suffolk of coveting her wardship so he could get closer to the throne by marrying the young heiress (and also the King’s cousin) to his son John. But people forget that this was an ambitious and ruthless era. Wards were a profitable business. If the boys or girls were wealthy heiress their guardians would benefit by marrying them off to their heirs, thus making themselves richer. After Suffolk’s death in 1450, Margaret was brought before the King and his councilors to swear against her marriage. She was only nine. With tensions brewing between the King and the Duke of York, it became imperative that she married someone loyal to the King. She was promised to the Earl of Richmond, Edmund Tudor who also obtained her wardship. Edmund didn’t wait to consummate his marriage to the young heiress. The age of consent for girls was twelve, but that didn’t mean that everyone would approve of their marriage. Sometimes girls married older men or boys their age, and they waited years to consummate their marriage for fear it would hurt them and they would be unable to have more children. Edmund however was eager to get Margaret pregnant to get ahold of her fortunes, preventing any Yorkist from taking them. Edmund was a realist as everyone was during this time. After the first battle of St. Albans, it became clear that everyone’s lives and fortunes were at stake. Edmund could die or be captured, and if his marriage was unconsummated, it could be annulled and then she would be free to remarry, possible a Yorkist if the latter got the upper hand. Edmund was no staunch Lancastrian. He was a pragmatist as his brother Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke. Both had supported the Duke of York many times when he fought Margaret of Anjou for the regency. They knew he was more experienced and had the loyalty of his men, and despite their disagreements, he would make a good Regent. But when it came to taking sides between their King and half-brother and the Duke, they would obviously stay with the former.
Margaret gave birth to Henry Tudor under strenuous circumstances. After she had learned of her husband’s death (possibly as a result of disease and wounds inflicted on him during his captivity) –fearing for her life- she escaped to Wales, to Pembrokeshire where she gave birth to her only offspring, Henry Tudor in January 1456. During the Lancastrian Readeption her son’s lands and titles were restored and they and his uncle Jasper Tudor were back in favor again. But when Henry VI’s only son was killed in battle, and her cousin was dragged from the Abbey –along his other companions- to be beheaded, and the Lancastrian King himself was murdered; Henry and Jasper had no choice but to flee the country. They would not see each other for fourteen years. During that time Margaret lost her second husband, Henry Stafford and remarried to one of England’s up-and-coming courtiers, Thomas Stanley. And took care of securing for herself a position where she could gain Edward IV’s confidence and respect so she could convince him of allowing her son to come back home unharmed.
But Edward IV had no intention of returning the youth to his mother. He (rightly) saw Henry as a threat following the destruction of the legitimate line of the Lancastrian House and began to set his eyes on Henry. His father Edmund Tudor had been the son of Katherine of Valois and her first husband’s Welsh squire –Owen ap Meredith ap Tudor. By a mistranslation of his name, he became Owen Tudor. (Imagine if they had translated his name right. We would have a dynasty of Merediths instead). The couple’s torrid love affair became public after Katherine’s death in 1438, after which Edmund was probably eight years old. The two had probably married a year before that. Owen was one of the more adventurous Tudors. Like his grandson Henry Tudor, he lived a life of dangerous escapades but like so many others in the wars of the roses, his life was cut short when he was beheaded in 1461, shortly after the battle of Mortimer cross.
Though the Tudors had no Lancastrian blood running through their veins, the Beauforts did and Margaret had passed on her distant claim to her son. When John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster married his mistress, Kathryn Swynford, the Beauforts were legitimized by an act of parliament under Richard II. But his successor –John’s eldest son- altered the act, adding that they could be legitimate but not inherit. This was a huge blow to the Beauforts, but it didn’t stop them from being fiercely loyal to their house. In fact the Yorkist King and his siblings were descendant of John of Gaunt through their mother Cecily Neville who was the daughter of John and Kathryn’s only daughter –Joan Beaufort. But being descendants of Gaunt’s line through the female line hardly mattered. Henry Tudor was the descendant of this house through the eldest male line. This made him very dangerous. Henry IV had usurped the throne under the pretext that Richard II was bad king, and that he descended from the third eldest son of Edward III and other royals with greater claims than his other cousins. It didn’t matter if they believed his claims, as long as he had a powerful army and discontent nobles backing him.
All Henry Tudor needed was discontent nobles and foreign allies, and Edward IV could look to another invasion from another Lancastrian. Luckily for Henry, he evaded captured by feigning sickness when Edward’s men were about to board him on a ship to take him to England. Hiding in a church, he was able to send a message to the Duke of Brittany –Francis II- of his suspicions of Edward’s intentions and he was brought back to safety. Edward did not have to worry about Henry becoming a danger when the real danger was closer to home. His younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence was accusing the Queen’s family of poisoning his wife and baby and captured one of the servants that allegedly were on the Woodville’s payroll and administered cruel punishment. When Edward found out about this he imprisoned his brother and executing him, drowning him in a butt of malmsey wine. This was 1478, by this time Edward IV was becoming obese and consumed by what Mancini later described as his “vices” that were encouraged by his in-laws. As his health deteriorated, his worries over Henry Tudor waned. He agreed with Margaret to bring her son back and was about to sign up an agreement, that guaranteed he would stay true to his word –and marry him to Elizabeth of York- when he died.
The reign of Richard III changed everything. Never mind the mystery of the uncrowned Prince and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, known forever as the “Princes in the Tower”. There were many discontent nobles that believed they should have received more favor for supporting Richard’s usurpation. In the North he was beloved. He had adopted the white boar –also known as Ebocarum- as his sigil and to further show his appreciation for the region, he had held the ceremony of his son’s investiture as Prince of Wales there. People in the South were not happy. The common law courts that Richard had created to help the poor and those who were unable to get a good defense, were not helping his cause. Richard as those before him, had proven he could be both ruthless and merciful. While he was remembered fondly in the North and by the people he helped, he was also greatly disliked by the families of the people he executed and the many people he went after.
Margaret worked very hard to appease the new King and Queen. She played an important part on their joint coronation, holding Anne Neville’s train and her husband formed a part of the King’s government, though not of his inner circle. After the Princes’ disappearances, she began meeting with the Duke of Buckingham who was her nephew by marriage. Many have taken this as a sign that she conspired with Stafford to create havoc on England, or kill the Princes for good, so her son would take the crown. But there are many problems with this theory. First is that Margaret’s husband did not have direct access to the Tower. Richard Brackenbury did, and only he would have the power to open the boys’ chambers and do any harm. Secondly, given Margaret’s past ambitions, it is more probable she was looking to Buckingham who was probably dissatisfied with Richard, to convince him to support her son’s claim. She might have reasoned that if the Princes were indeed dead as many foreign ambassadors believed they were, than that left only one option for her son to come back home: As a King rather than a captive.
Whatever Margaret’s aim was, it failed. Buckingham’s rebellion was crushed and her son’s first attempt to invade England also failed. Richard released a public statement next year, swearing that he would do no harm to his late brother’s remaining children, his nieces. Bess Woodville came out of sanctuary and her two eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Cecily, were brought to court to serve the Queen.
Despite Richard’s best attempts to put the rumors of kin-slaying to rest, people began to whisper once more. This time they were saying that he intended to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. Some historians do lend credibility to these rumors and I don’t doubt he might have had as these types of marriages were common back then. But he would have needed a special dispensation from the pope since they were in a closer degree of affinity, not to mention that her maternal family’s reputation amongst the high nobility. His son also died that year and his wife began to grow ill. What Anne Neville must have thought when she heard these rumors is something we will never know. But like her husband, the pressure got to her and shortly before her death, her husband was already looking for a new wife to secure the future of his kingdom and to neutralize the Tudor threat. Publicly forced to swear that he never had any intention of marrying his niece, he began making plans for her. He got to arrange to double marriage for him and his niece to the Infanta of Portugal and the Duke of Beja -both of whom had Lancastrian blood running through their veins. It was his own way of symbolically uniting both Houses and keeping Henry Tudor away from Elizabeth of York.
Following the victory of Bosworth Field (which was won with the support of Stanley’s armies when he and his brother switched over to Henry’s side) she became one of the most powerful women in English history and began styling herself “My Lady the King’s Mother” and signed her documents “Margaret R”. The “R” likely stood for Richmond as it was her title now as suo jure.
Margaret outlived her son, eldest grandson and daughter-in-law, dying a few days after her youngest grandson -Henry VIII’s- coronation on June 29, 1509. She was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey at the south aisle of the beautiful Lady Chapel Henry VII had constructed for him and his descendants.
Margaret is credited with being one of the greatest learned women of her age and this is not mere flattery. Margaret was in fact very learned and she is known to have founded many colleges –among these John’s College in Cambridge and the Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School and refounding God’s House in Cambridge and turning it into Christ’s College and establishing the Lady Margaret’s Professorship of Divinity. And in addition, she translated many French works into English.
Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton
Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
On the thirtieth of May 1536, Henry and Jane were married at Whitehall palace at the Queen’s Closet. The ceremony was officiated by none other than the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer who was Jane’s predecessor former chaplain. The wedding took place, according to Fraser “quickly and quietly”
Jane quickly established herself in her new role. Although she wasn’t vociferous like her predecessors, Jane did voice her opinion on several occasions. Her latest biographers Loades and Norton show that when she voiced them, she was very subtle. Had she lived, Norton believes Jane would have taken on “the political role that would have been open to her as the mother of the heir to the throne”. Jane Seymour appears as ‘boring’ or ‘conniving’ in popular culture, slammed for daring to take Anne’s position (which many view was rightfully hers). But history medieval and renaissance history is not about who was right or wrong. Laws could be changed or interpreted in many different ways. Ultimately who deserved the right to be called queen, or be revered, is to the reader.
Given Henry’s tastes it is hard to say whether he would have tired of Jane or not. She displayed herself as many other consorts before her had done, including Henry’s mother whom Henry revered and whom he seemed to judge his other wives on. Women were expected to take on certain roles, Consorts bore more responsibilities. They had to present themselves as the epitomes of virtue, and be prepared to rule in their husband’s absence or when their sons were too young to do so after they were crowned.
Would anyone be surprised if we were to find out that the “she wolves” Isabella of France and Marguerite of Anjou behaved like Jane Seymour before shit hit the fan? Thought so.
Isabella of France submitted herself to humiliation on the part of her husband and his favorites. During her coronation she saw her husband’s favorite’s arms displayed on the banquet instead of hers. She saw honors heaped on this man and then his replacement after he was executed by the Earl of Lancaster. Isabella said nothing, not a word while she lived. She obviously felt angry, but she never voiced her opinions. She did what Consorts did. She bore Edward II’s children, begged mercy for traitors, and appeared on state functions with her husband –including when they went to visit her father Philip IV “the Fair” of France. Isabella’s chance for revenge came when he sent her to France, to negotiate on his behalf with the new King of France, her brother Charles. There she met the exile Roger Mortimer and the two began a torrid love affair which ended with their alliance, their invasion to England in her son’s name, the deposition of her husband, and their regency for Edward III.
Marguerite of Anjou was less radical. She did not rebel against her husband, she stuck with him for better or for worse. Instead of replacing him with her son as Isabella had done, Marguerite decided to take the fight to Richard, Duke of York, the Earl of Salisbury, the Earls of March, Rutland, and Warwick. These were their number one enemies and when they forced her husband to sign a treaty where he acknowledged Richard’s right to be King, and made him his heir, passing over his son. Marguerite decided to take up arms against them again. Marguerite ended losing her war. Her son and husband died, ending the Lancastrian dynasty once and for all. There was only one last Lancastrian (although he descended from the Beauforts which were still considered by many illegitimate) and he ended up becoming King in 1485 after he defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field. He was Henry VII and his son Henry VIII was now Jane’s husband. Four days later, Sir John Russell wrote to Lord Lisle that in making Jane his wife, he had made a wise choice for “she is as gentle a lady as ever I knew, and as fair a queen as any in Christendom. The King hath come out of hell into heaven for the gentleness in this and the cursedness and the unhappiness in the other. You would do well to write to the king again that you rejoice he is so well match with so gracious a woman as is reported.”
Jane acted with tact, speaking when she felt was wise, and crossing the line only once when she voiced empathy for the pilgrimage of grace. Jane served two Queens, possibly three if the theory of her serving Princess Mary when she married Louis XII of France is correct; and under them she had seen many things, learned many things. The number one lesson she learned was not to get on Henry’s bad side, not just for her own safety but for her family.
Marriage was like a business contract and it was the goal for many highborn at the time. As with Anne, Jane would have viewed the opportunity of becoming Queen a golden one. As with her predecessor, she was walking a fine thread with no friends in high places like Henry VIII’s first Queen, Katherine of Aragon. Had she said ‘no’ to Henry and genuinely refused all his attentions, Henry would have found someone else to replace Anne and that woman would no doubt be the one slammed instead of Jane.
Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s true love by Elizabeth Norton
Jane Seymour by David Loades
The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence.
On May the 29th of 1533, Anne Boleyn’s coronation began. The procession began at 1 o’clock. The Lord Mayor Sir Stephen Peacock and the Aldermen assembled at St. Mary-at-hill with the Common Councilors to board the City barge at New Stairs to lead the river pageant. On these barges was Anne Boleyn, in her own private barge. The river pageant was one which had not been seen since her mother-in-law’s coronation, Elizabeth of York. Henry wanted to make it clear to everyone through excessive pageantry that Anne Boleyn was his one and true wife, and the child resting in her womb, the future King. Henry did not disappoint in his efforts. The people were mesmerized. Even the Imperial Ambassador admitted it was a spectacular affair. Mechanical dragons greeted the royal barges as they made their way to the Tower of London. After which, Anne Boleyn clad in a cloth of gold, disembarked from hers, and greeted Henry who was eagerly waiting for her. Despite being forty and showing early signs of obesity, he was still considered handsome. A Venetian observer said he had a “face like an angel, so fair it shone like Caesar’s”.
“Anne’s face, we can imagine, was even more cheerful. For everything she had hoped for since 1527-the King, the throne, the very kingdom itself- was now hers.”
Indeed this was the near culmination of her ambitions. However, Anne and Henry would later miscalculate when the unexpected happened, and nature had its last say. For Henry it was of the utmost importance that he validate his marriage. He had moved heaven and earth to marry Anne, and more than that to begat a legitimate male heir. Henry Fitzroy is recorded with being his worldly jewel, but a bastard could not inherit his dominions and no English peer believed Mary could rule on her own. Her maternal grandmother was an oddity, one of the few they ignored, but this was England and England’s memory of ruling Queens was not very generous. Isabella “the she wolf of France” (a nickname originally given to Marguerite of Anjou), and Empress Matilda. The woman who would have made Queen. These were just two of many examples that the English used to justify their fear of having a female King. And England had just come out of an infamous dynastic war that had split the country into many factions. England desperately wanted to be at peace. Even those that loved Queen Katherine and still considered her their true Queen of Hearts, attended the ceremonies of Anne’s coronation. Probably they were eagerly awaiting the result of her pregnancy. If she gave to a boy, the Tudor dynasty could be preserved and the people could be spared from another civil war.
After the festivities concluded, Anne and Henry dined at the Tower where they held a splendid reception. The ceremonies would resumed the following day and the day after that. And finally on the fourth day, on the 1st of June, Anne would become Queen of England. The first Queen to be crowned with the crown of the Confessor.
Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle.
On May the 25th 1553 a triple wedding was celebrated. The couples were Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, his sister Lady Catherine and Lord Hastings, and Jane’s sister, Lady Katherine and Lord Herbert -the son of the late Anne Parr -sister to the late Queen Dowager and Baroness Sudeley, Katherine Parr.
The wedding was a master plan in the making. Initially the ailing King, Edward VI had been considered as a potential suitor for the eldest of the Grey sisters since negotiations to continue his betrothal with Henry II’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth of France, were not going very well. Among the many reformers abroad who encouraged this union was Ulmer and Bulm who told their former apprentice she would flourish there. Jane’s popularity was rising and all that fame soon got to the teenager’s head. She began to make bolder statements against her cousin Mary and others who refused to follow the ‘true faith’. In Jane perspective, this was holy war, and she had become one of her faith’s greatest pioneers. But as the year 1552 came and went, it became clear to anyone that Edward’s days were numbered. He had survived a brush with death when he overcame the measles in 1551, but he wasn’t going to be so lucky this time. Edward began to draft a legal document that was more of a legal exercise that posed an important question on who would be king or queen after he died. The succession did not favor women as many people think. In fact “My Device for the succession” as it was titled, still favored male succession. It stated that if Frances failed to give birth to any male issue before he died, the throne would pass on to Jane and her sons. If Jane failed to have any sons then the throne would pass on to Katherine and her sons. And if she failed to have any sons as well, then to Mary and her sons.
To strengthen Jane’s claim and the Protestant alliance, the teenagers were married on the same day. Not surprisingly, supporting the Evangelicals was France (whose own ambassador, Boisdauphin was present at the wedding) who were as opposed as they were to see the Lady Mary Tudor succeed her brother (since she would favor Spanish interests over French).
The wedding took place in Northumberland’s London residence, at Durham House. The young couples wore “silver and gold fabrics forfeited to the King from the Duke of Somerset in 1551 and figuratively at least, marked with his blood.” (Lisle). Perhaps it was appropriate they were wearing such clothes since this wedding -albeit sanctioned by the head of their church- was a declaration of war against their future rival, Lady Mary Tudor. The triple ceremony was attended by almost all of the nobility. They enjoyed a great number of entertainments such as masques, jousts, and a great feast. When the celebrations ended, the two Grey sisters went to their new homes with their respective fathers-in-law. Jane at Sion in Richmond, and Katherine at Bayanard’s Castle near the Thames (coincidentally the same palace one of their ancestress –Cecily Neville, Duchess of York aka “Queen by Rights” and “Proud Cis”- had once possessed and where some historians suggest, Richard engineered his usurpation).
It is unclear whether the marriage was consummated or not. Some believed that it wasn’t because of her young age. But it is important to remember that in the Tudor age, the age of consent for girls was twelve and for boys fourteen. Both Jane and Guildford were well past that age range. Then again, the argument against it holds up very well too. Since she was her mother and Edward’s heir, her health was of the utmost importance. Consummating the marriage could result in a pregnancy which could result in her death or inability to have more children (as it had happened to her great-great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond).
Three days later, Edward VI’s doctors confirmed that he was dying. Edward had sent expensive gifts to the Grey sisters and to Catherine Dudley to congratulate them on their union. This proved his own validation for the Evangelical elite’s schemes against his sisters, and more than that, his own involvement with them. For Edward, it was imperative that England remained faithful and he believed that the only way that could be achieved was if another Evangelical succeeded him to the throne and that someone was Jane who was just as passionately Evangelical as he was.
Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
On the twenty first of May 1471, Henry VI died, probably by the hand of the Yorks. There are many versions of this. In some it is Richard who kills him while Henry VI bemoans his death and the destruction of his house, in others it is an unknown assailant sent by Richard. The official story is something so outrageous and taken out of a fairy tale story that nobody believed it at the time. According to the Yorkists, Henry VI had taken the news of his son’s death “to so great despite, ire and indignation that of pure displeasure and melancholy he died”. Few believed this cock and bull story. Towards the end of his life, Henry VI had become paranoid. He railed about seeing a woman drowning a child and many other visions that his confessor and biographer, John Blacman, later recorded. Despite his delusions however, it is very hard to believe that he would just drop dead upon receiving the news of his dead son.
Everyone suspected of foul play. But regardless of the identity of his killer, whoever sent him would have been acting under the strict orders of Edward IV. It is illogical to think that someone would have just gone rogue and done away with the old King. Edward IV wanted Henry VI. Period. He didn’t spare his son in his battle and dragged Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and the others hiding at Tewkesbury Abbey for beheading two days later on May the sixth. His death marked the end of an era and the end of a threat. Or at least that is how it seemed.
Edward IV was too smart to know that killing Henry VI was the end of the Lancastrian threat. If history had taught him anything was that once one person was eradicated, another one could come to take his place. Especially if that someone came from the same House as he did. Henry Tudor was the descendant of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster’s eldest son by his third wife, Kathryn Swynford. Although King Richard II had legitimized their children, his successor, Henry IV had excluded them from the line of succession. But that was a minor concern for Edward IV. After all, he better than anyone, knew laws could be made or unmade. It was only a matter of power and money. So after Henry VI was murdered that morning between 11 and 12 0’clock, he began his next project: to capture Henry Tudor, the fourteen year old Earl of Richmond and his uncle Jasper Tudor who were hiding in Wales, at all costs.
Some historians view the destruction of the legitimate line of the House of Lancaster as the end of the wars of the roses; but the wars as we know now, was far more complex and far from over at this point. Where one war ended, another began.
Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen by Amy Licence
Edward IV by Ross
Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Westminster (1453-1471) by Susan Higginbotham
The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Jones
On the 17th of May 1536, George Boleyn and the other four men accused of adultery with the former Queen, Anne Boleyn, were beheaded. George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, and Sir Francis Weston were brought together to Tower Hill, to be executed.
“Henry had been so convinced that the public spectators would be gratified by the deaths of these traitors that he had ordered the scaffold to be built especially high so as to give everyone in the crowd a good view.” –Ridgway & Cherry.
Henry and the officials who were to be disappointed. In spite of Anne’s unpopularity, the people were not happy with the outcome of the trial. Many sensed something was amiss; not to mention that Lord Rochford and Norris were respected courtiers, and their charisma was well thought of when they saw them kneel down, putting their heads on the block, to meet their ends (especially George whose career as it has previously been discussed on this site, was remarkable –barely missing any council meetings and parliamentary sessions, and taking his job as an ambassador very seriously, not to mention that like his sister, he was a natural charmer).
Unlike Anne Boleyn who would die two days later, they died by the axe. Little is known about George’s speech but some of the people who knew him best wrote about it later, and accounts by those who remembered his speech recorded it decades later. Thomas Wyatt, one of men arrested with George Boleyn, got out free and years after his friend’s execution wrote a beautiful poem commemorating his death.
“Christian men, I was born under the law,
and I die under the law
for as much as it is the law which has condemned me.
Masters all, I have not come here to preach but to die
for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives,
more shamefully that can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully.
I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse my sins openly, it were no pleasure to you to hear them,
nor yet for me to rehearse them, for God knoweth all.
Therefore, masters all, I pray you take heed by me,
and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court, the which I have been among,
take heed by me and beware of such a fall,
and I pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost
three persons and one God,
that my death may be an example unto you all.
And beware, trust not in the vanity of the world,
and especially in the flattering of the court.
And I cry God mercy, and ask all the world forgiveness of God.
And if I have offended any man that is here now,
either in thought, word or deed, and if ye hear any such,
I pray you heartily in my behalf,
pray them to forgive me for God’s sake.
And yet, my masters all, I have one thing for to say to you:
Men do moon and say that I have been a setter forth of the Word of God, and one that have favored
the Gospel of Christ;
and because I would not that God’s word should be slandered by me,
I say unto you all, that if I had followed God’s word
in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power,
I had not come to this.
If I had, I had been a living man among you.
Therefore I pray you, masters all,
for God’s sake stick to the truth and follow it,
for one good follower is worth three readers, as God knoweth.” –George Boleyn’s execution speech according to the Chronicle of Calais.
Eustsace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador has him saying that he had been “contaminated” and had been “contaminating others with the new sects”. We don’t know if what Chapuys said was true because he wasn’t there but unlike what has been written about him, he was one of the most reliable foreign sources, and he did respect George on a level that he seldom had for any other English courtier, and his dispatches to the Emperor days later after Anne Boleyn’s execution demonstrates how he was capable of showing deep admiration for his enemies.
There is a reason why his speech was so impassioned and it was because as so many other men condemned to death, conscious that they were guilty or not guilty, they had to make their last moments on earth remarkable, worthy to be remembered. This was a highly religious era, and Henry had done something unprecedented, he had declared himself Head of the Church, his own church which made him in many of his people’s eyes, the representative of God on Earth. Which also made him infallible and those who opposed him were no longer committing acts of treason, but sins against God. It sounds far out but that is how it would have been viewed back then, especially by Henry (who being a deeply religious man, was convinced what his conscience and God’s will were one and the same).
In the view of Henry’s new Church –which the Boleyns had helped build when Anne encouraged Henry to read ‘forbidden’ books that gave him an alternative to waiting for a papal decision on his desired divorce with Katherine- George had not only committed treason against his sovereign, but against God as well. Therefore, before he put his head on the block, he addressed the crowds one more time and begged them to pray for him, to pray for his comrades, and although he didn’t ask for their forgiveness (perhaps a silent act of rebellion, knowing in his heart of hearts that he was innocent of the charges laid against him, and George being a highly religious man himself, could not admit to something he had not done, but the sins he spoke of –if Chapuys is to believed- could have been something else such as adultery with somebody else which might have hurt his wife, Jane Parker, or an arrogance that he had often been accused by his contemporary and later detractors) he went on to emphasize his religious and kingly devotion, ending his speech with “God Save the King.” The rest as they say is history.
“These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, y youth did them depart, And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.
The Bell Tower showed me such a sight
That in my head sticks day and night. There I did learn out of a greater,
For all fair, glory, or might,
That yet, circa Regna tonat.”
Thomas Wyatt wrote this poem during his time in prison never forgetting this event and the people behind it.
George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo
Inside the Tudor Court of Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writing of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir
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.
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
On the 14th of May 1536, Henry declared his marriage to Anne Boleyn null and void which meant that she could no longer be accused of adultery since she had never been Henry’s wife. But this was Henry VIII. He wanted Anne gone, and it didn’t matter what legal mumbo-jumbo his muscle team had to conjure to get it done. There was also another reason why he wanted Anne done away with. He didn’t want another repeat of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine of Aragon as everyone knows was the wife he couldn’t divorce and annul his marriage to, from the Catholic Church’s perspective. And through that perspective, he was never legally married to Anne because Katherine was still alive, making his union with Anne invalid and their daughter a bastard. If he was to get a son from Jane Seymour, he had to make sure that there was no dispute (whatsoever) of his legitimacy. Therefore, the easiest solution as the priest tells you at the altar, “until death do us part”, was to kill Anne. But Henry was no murdered, he was a gallant chevalier who took after King Arthur. In his view, as Leanda de Lisle has argued, he was a man who was the purveyor of justice and the perfect embodiment of chivalry. Anne Boleyn as well as her alleged lovers’ executions had to come through legal means, and her execution (by a sword) was yet another representation of his chivalric ideals.
The day after her marriage was declared null and void, the trial against her and brother began.
“Her brother defied the charges and daringly read out the note he had been requested to keep secret, that Anne and Jane Parker had allegedly discussed the King’s inability in the bedroom, claiming he lacked ‘vertu’ and ‘puissance’, or ability and power.” –Licence
Although he never said that he agreed with what was written or that he believed the note was genuinely theirs, the simple fact that he had defied the order not to read it, was considered treasonous and a mockery against the King.
According to the Tudor chronicler Wriothesley, Anne composed herself during the trial and made “answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been fault of the same”. As for George, he also knew that he wasn’t going to get out of this alive. He had shadowed his father and uncle for many years, impressed the Imperial Ambassador for his brilliance and courteous behavior towards him; he had seen much of the two of the greatest courts in Europe, and with his sister being Queen, he had been a witness to many key events. He was realistic, pragmatic. And from the moment he had been arrested, he was aware that no one was going to get out of this alive or without their reputations dragged through the mud. Wriothesley added that he spoke “so prudently and wisely to all articles laid against him, that marvel it was to hear, and never would confess to anything but made himself as clear as though he had never offended.” Others were of the same opinion, including the Imperial Ambassador who wrote back to his master, telling him that the charges were so ridiculous that he was astonished that they were being taken seriously.
“No proof of George’s guilt was produced except that of his having once passed many hours in her company, and other little follies.” –Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador
As for Anne, once again ignoring the legal obvious that she could not be charged with something, since she had never been legally married to the King, according to the King himself; she was charged with twenty acts of adultery, three which were incest with her brother George and she was found guilty. The verdict was read aloud by none other than her first romantic interest, Henry Percy, who collapsed afterwards and had to be dragged out from the room for fear that he would get worse.
Anne’s fate was officially sealed. Anne would die four days later on May 19th, the other men -including her brother- two days before that.
Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
George Boleyn, Poet, Courtier, Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence