Mean Royals: The Spanish Princess vs the Tudor Matriarch & Grand-Matriarch – Did Such a Rivalry Exist?

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Was Katharine of Aragon’s relationship with her mother and grandmother-in-law, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort respectively, tense and fraught with discord as shown in The Spanish Princess? The miniseries, a sequel to The White Queen and The White Princess hasn’t aired yet but the latest trailers has given us a taste of what we can expect.

Like its aforementioned predecessors, the miniseries will be using the common trope of other female lead costume dramas: Women vs women.

This is a trope that has been played to dead. And it is not bad, when well done. But that is the problem here. Did it really happen and if it didn’t, how will it play out?

Should we care?
No. If accuracy isn’t what you are looking for. If all you care is about storytelling, this shouldn’t bother you one bit. But if you are a historical purist, then I suggest you turn off the TV and switch to another channel.

As previously stated, the Mean Girls trope has been played to dead. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Contrary to popular belief though, it wasn’t that common.

Women did fight each other for wealth and position, but these fights didn’t as long as they are depicted in these costume dramas. In fact, more often than not, women who started off as enemies, became allies if not friends in the end.

This was no different for Katharine of Aragon. Forget her rivalry with Anne Boleyn, let’s go further back to the start of the sixteenth century, when she landed on Plymouth, England.

Everyone who saw her was enchanted by her, this includes Elizabeth of York. Little is said about Margaret Beaufort’s opinion of her. Given the written records and what’s known about these figures thus far, there is no reason to think that she disliked her.

If anything, Margaret’s attitude towards Katharine had more to do with prioritizing her son and his dynasty’s interests first above her personal opinions. Unlike Elizabeth of York, Margaret was politically active. Following the death of her eldest grandchild, she would advised Henry VII and gone along with his final decision.

Margaret’s hold over her family is well known and much has been written about it, but Margaret’s actions were no different than other older grand-matriarchs. Elizabeth of York on the other hand, chose to take on a passive role. In this, she excelled tremendously, earning the love and admiration of the English people.

lambeth palace exterior
Lambeth Palace

Elizabeth was intrigued by her future daughter-in-law. There’s no proof of animosity between them. Days before her London entourage, she had stayed at Lambeth Palace. The day when her procession began, the King and Queen had sent their youngest son, Henry, Duke of York to accompany her. They had even offered her a carriage, which she politely reclined, opting for a humble mount instead.

Katharine displayed tremendous gratitude for all the work and effort that had been put into the celebrations, something that wasn’t lost on the royal family and her future subjects. When the ceremonies came to an end, she retired to the Bishop of London’s home at St. Paul’s (where she would be married to Arthur two days later on Sunday, November 14th). In her dual biography on Katharine and her older sister, Juana (I) of Castile, Julia Fox, notes:

“The royal family were delighted with everything and everyone. Queen Elizabeth had caught her first glimpse of Katherine, and the princess was due to visit her the next day.” (Fox)

st paul cathedral interior
Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Arthur’s letters to Katharine had been passionate. This is a key factor that nearly all historians note in their multiple biographies on these notable historical figures. Neither Margaret Beaufort nor Elizabeth of York felt threatened by Katharine’s grace and humility. If anything, these virtues brought them relief.

England had endured a terrible period of dynastic civil war. The repercussions of these royal affairs served as a bitter reminder of what happened when women’s voices rang louder than those of the king’s trusted men. Women played an integral during the wars of the roses. Active or not, they became the object of controversy -real or created- and these controversies were used as weapons against their husbands and sons. After all this chaos, the people expected consorts who took more of a backstage role than a public one. Elizabeth of York had become that and more, to the point of becoming a quasi-religious icon immediately after her death.

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Katharine’s soft and apparent humble demeanor, mirrored those of Elizabeth of York, whom Katharine hoped to emulate in her coming years as Queen of England.

For her part, Elizabeth of York had communicated to Katharine’s mother, that both she and her husband were pleased with her daughter. Elizabeth’s correspondence to Isabella had begun some years before. Knowing that Katharine would have to communicate in something other than English with her son, she advised the Queen of Castile to take advantage of Margaret Habsburg, who’d recently married Katharine’s brother, Prince Juan of Asturias. Margaret like Katharine, was highly educated. One of the languages she had come to master was French. While Katharine and Arthur could continue to write to each other in Latin, Elizabeth felt it better if she started to learn and practice French too, since it was language that was still highly popular among the English upper class.
Isabella took Elizabeth’s advice to heart. When Katharine came to England, she committed herself to learning England and slowly but surely, becoming indistinguishable from any of the English ladies at court.

Katharine did succeed, but her success did not come until much later when she was Henry VIII’s queen. During these trying years of battling for dominance, standing her ground against Tudor legal forces and foreign interests that underestimated her intellectual capacity and perseverance, Katharine remained the Spanish Princess. The unfortunate widow whose virginity was often debated and contested, which also placed into doubt her eligibility as the next King of England’s future bride. The future seemed bleak for Katharine. Rather than being discouraged by these seemingly impossible odds, Katharine remained adamant. Her first motto as Princess of Wales had been “not for my crown.” She continued to push, finding other outlets to survive and remain in England, until she got what she wanted.

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Elizabeth of York had promised she’d look over her daughter-in-law and be there to guide her through the difficult adjustment into her new country. Following her son’s funeral, Elizabeth did what she could to provide the widowed Spanish Princess with moral support. It is not known what was her opinion of Katharine’s resolute affirmation of her virginity and her parents, especially her mother, pushing for a renewal of the Anglo-Spanish alliance by marrying her to the remaining crown prince, Henry (now) Prince of Wales. Elizabeth’s choice to take on a more conciliatory role as Queen Consort would have made her opinion -if she voiced it- irrelevant. Henry VII had the final say in this matter. Margaret Beaufort’s involvement in this matter seems to have been very minimal. Whatever Henry VII decided, it was for the good of the realm and she, like all his subjects, would follow his lead.

Coming back to the novels this miniseries is based on, from the moment Katharine of Aragon meets Margaret Pole, the two hit it off. This is historically accurate. The two women became best friends, with Margaret reaping the benefits of this friendship right after Katharine weds Henry VIII and is jointly crowned with him. The earldom of Salisbury that had been in her family was restored to her, becoming one of the few female title holders (femme sole) up until that point. But there is a dark history to Katharine and Arthur’s union, a condition which the miniseries will undoubtedly touch upon.

After Katharine and Margaret Pole become fast friends in The Constant Princess, she asks Margaret if she doesn’t blame her for her brother’s execution. Margaret brushes it off as one of many tragic moments in her life, and a reality that royals have to live with.

Is the miniseries going to have Elizabeth of York blame Katharine for what happened to her brother and cousin? The White Queen and The White Princess (based on the novels of the same name) follow the school of thought that Perkin Warbeck was who he claimed he was, the youngest of the lost princes in the tower, Richard of Shrewsbury, better known as Richard, Duke of York. “The White Princess” takes a lot of historical liberties (more so than its predecessor, also deviating from its source material), having Elizabeth of York being one of the plotters behind her brother and cousin’s downfall. Yet, to excuse her actions, she might reason that she was forced into these drastic measures because of Katharine of Aragon’s parents, the Catholic Kings who in real life DID pressure Elizabeth’s husband to secure his throne or else, their alliance was off.

Meg Beaufort

Notable biographer Sarah Gristwood, takes on a different approach from past historians, inferring in her multiple biography on the women of the wars of the roses, “Blood Sisters”, that Margaret never got along with Katharine and held back a gleeful smile when her granddaughter-in-law’s longed for triumph, was nearly ruined by pouring rain. Katharine had come to substitute her as her remaining grandson, Henry VIII, now an adult and the new King of England, trusted adviser.
The Spanish Princess, based off Philippa Gregory’s two novels The Constant Princess & The King’s Curse which protagonists are Katharine of Aragon and Margaret Pole respectively. Judging solely by the miniseries’ trailers, it looks like The Spanish Princess is taking this perspective. In the last chapters of “The Constant Princess”, Margaret Beaufort nearly explodes when Henry VIII begins to listen less and less to her and more to his charming new bride. The miniseries will no doubt recreate this season with Margaret realizing -as Sir Thomas More, Lord Mountjoy and countless others during her joint coronation with Henry VIII- that Katharine of Aragon is not just any Princess, but a woman who was born to be Queen.

In the trailer, Elizabeth reminds Henry VII of the importance of this alliance. “Spain and England unite against our enemies so our son is protected on his throne.”
It’s unknown whether she says this BEFORE or AFTER Arthur dies, and whether or not she is talking about Arthur or Harry. Judging solely from her tone of voice, this conversation could take place after Arthur’s death, when she starts to view Katharine more as a threat and a bitter reminder of the sacrifice they had to make to ensure this alliance. The next line is spoken by her husband in what can only be assumed is an earlier moment in the series, where he warns his Queen that until “that girl arrives, we are lost.”

“Elizabeth of York was glad that after so many delays, the Princess from Spain had finally reached England. In a month’s time, she and Arthur would be wed, and within a year –God willing- she would be a mother. But the Queen’s happiness had come at a price. Before his daughter could come to England, King Ferdinand had demanded the death of the hapless Earl of Warwick. The Young man, though he was a prisoner, was a continuing threat to the security of England, he believed. Until he was properly dealt with, Ferdinand declared, he would not allow his precious daughter to leave Spain. Henry VII complied. To secure the alliance, Warwick and Perkin Warbeck were put to death in 1499.” (Hui)

Taking all of this into account, it’s not far-fetched to say, that part of Elizabeth’s anger towards Katharine will stem from the the losses she and Henry had to endure and the heavy toll they had to pay for the sake of the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Elizabeth’s response to her cousin, Margaret Pole, when Margaret asks what will happen to the widowed Spanish Princess, may be confirmation of this.

Regardless of the historical liberties and deviation from the source material, this miniseries is set to have many historical buffs talking. Hopefully, it will make more people interested in finding out about the real people behind this costume drama, especially Katharine of Aragon, whose beginnings are often overshadowed by her tragic end.

Sources:

  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine. 2011.
  • Williams, Patrick. Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife. Amberley. 2013.
  • Hui, Roland. The Turbulent Crown: The Story of the Tudor Queens. MadeGlobal. 2017.
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. Harper. Collins. 2013.
  • Licence, Amy. Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife. Amberley. 2017.
  • –. The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII. Amberley. 2014.
  • –. Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Amberley. 2013.
  • –. Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort. History Press. 2016.
  • Gregory, Philippa. The Constant Princess. Harper Collins. 2005.
  • –. The King’s Curse. Simon & Schuster. 2014.
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Book Review: Los Grandes – Maria Tudor

Maria tudor los grandes

El libro es mas que otra biografia sobre “Maria la Sanguinaria” como es mejor recordada. Esta biografia es acerca de la Maria historica. Una mujer que nacio en el Palacio de Greenwich en 1516, fue la unica hija que les sobrevivio a sus padres, Enrique VIII y su primera esposa, la Infanta Española Catalina de Aragon. Maria crecio mimada y con un futuro resplandeciente. Su madre era la hija de los Reyes Catolicos y por lo tanto esperaba que su hija heredara el trono de su padre. Sin embargo, la dinastia Tudor era bastante nueva e Inglaterra no tenia bien visto la idea de una Reina gobernante. Maria recibio una educacion de lujo pero esta fue suspendida una vez que Enrique se caso con Ana Bolena, declaro su matrimonio con Catalina nulo, y su hija una bastard.
El libro no excusa las acciones de Maria, pero tampoco da excusas para los otras personas que la rodearon. El siglo XVI era una epoca violenta, mas por los guerras religiosas entre varios grupos Protestantes y Catolicos, y tambien entre el Cristianismo y el Islam. Los autores no buscan dar una nueva interpretacion de Maria, si no reportar los hechos tal y como sucedieron, y presentar su mundo tal y como era. Y a Maria como una mujer que sufrio varias decepciones, las cuales influyeron en su decision de quemar varios Protestantes una vez que ella se volvio Reina. Aunque esto no fue de inmediato, no fue tan popular como se pensaba que iba a ser. Inglaterra estaba cambiando, y su decision de casarse con un hombre once años mas joven que ella, que no fue aceptado por el simple hecho de ser un extranjero, le trajeron muchos problemas. Felipe II, una vez que su padre abdico en su favor en 1556, tuvo menos interes en responder las cartas de su esposa o visitarla.
El libro termina con unas notas tristes, pero duras en cuanta a la vida de esta monarca. Claramente, ponerla como una incompredida heroina y angelita no le hace ningunos favores, pero exagerar su imagen y creer en todo lo negativo (mucho de lo cual era eso: exageracion) tampoco es bueno.

Los Grandes sigue siendo de las mejores ediciones de biografias historicas. No esperaba que me iba a gustar, pero me gusto porque a pesar de estar corta, el libro da a conocer todas los detalles importantes acerca de esta monarca. Tiene una buena documentacion y a la vez entretiene.

Book Review: Anne Boleyn, Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn by Amy Licence

To understand Anne Boleyn, we have to know about her world first. Her roots, going back to the very beginning, tracing her family story, her role in the shifting religious climate of the Tudor era and finally, the differing views on women. When it comes to giving these women’s a voice, nobody is more suited for this task than renowned women’s historian, Amy Licence. The past comes alive in her new biography on Henry VIII’s second consort, and the mother to one of the world’s greatest female leaders who ruled England the longest out of all her dynasty, Elizabeth I.

Anne Boleyn lived during a time when many changes were going on. Nobody could have predicted her fall, or how far Henry VIII would have gone to have her. Nevertheless, looking back further, some things about her character start to make more sense.

Like her previous biography on Catherine of Aragon, this is a very detailed book. Highlighting the difference in status and the ever-changing cultural norms regarding gender, religion, and ceremony, she pulls the reader in to the 15th and 16th century eras. Another thing that I enjoyed from this book is that she did not shy away from the brutality and prejudices that characterized these time periods.

We often forget that these were people, subject to the same emotional and physical pain, although the later was augmented two-fold given the time and place they lived in, and the large gamble many of the up-and-coming families like the Boleyns took; nevertheless, something set them apart. They viewed the world through dark-colored lens.

The courts where Anne Boleyn served women like the archduchess Margaret of Austria and Queens Mary (her future husband’s youngest sister when she married Louis XII) and Claude of France, and later Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, valued order above all else. Decorum and class were everything for these people. Everything had to be structured, otherwise, society would come crumbling down and with it, chaos would reign.

Anne Boleyn was aware of this so she chose to follow the rules unlike her spirited sister Mary. But Anne was spirited in her own way. Instead of giving herself freely to men, be it through pressure or for passion, she preferred to shine by showing off her intellectual attributes. Her etiquette, her subtle playful and comely behavior, her occasional defiance, her passion for the new learning and indulging others, including Henry Percy and later the king, in harmless games of courtly love is what made her into one of the most alluring and interesting women at the Tudor court.

But, and this is something that historians still ask (and will likely continue to ask in the many years to come), is this what she intended? Was Anne Boleyn responsible for her fall? Was she a victim, pawn, or villain, homewrecker, or all of these things neatly wrapped together? Amy Licence doesn’t pretend to know the answer and as the book progresses, she is not about to give a definite answer but merely what she believed happened given what we know so far, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.

This is what a good historian. He or she gives the reader as much information as it is available, separates fact from fiction, primary from secondary sources and explaining the why, what, where, and when of the latter- letting the reader come to his own conclusion.

Anne Boleyn was a woman of many faces. She was a woman who might not have started out as the ambitious and unique ‘it’ girl from fiction, but as things got out of hand, she saw no other way but to play the waiting game and indulge the King. Having a strong moral compass -and another one of self-preservation- she did not let him take her virtue just like that. If the two of them were going to be together, he had to propose something grander. And ultimately that was marriage.

The road to the marriage bed was paved with obstacles, and it didn’t become any easier after she was crowned Queen of England. Anne was the first and only consort ever to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward the confessor -meant only for kings and queen regnants. Henry’s choice for this was not merely because of his passion and adoration for her, it was to symbolize something greater. He was not going to let anybody question their unborn child’s legitimacy, hence, his wife was going to have a coronation unlike something that hadn’t been seen before.
This is what the monarchy meant. Displays of force and splendor -and if there was something that Henry loved most of all, was wasting no expense on the latter.

But things turned sour and the rest as they say is history. Anne Boleyn’s story plays out like a Greek tragedy. A woman who chose to take the reins of her own destiny like her ancestors before her and navigate dangerous waters. Her gamble paid off (in the beginning). But she ended up losing everything. Yet, something of her remained, something which has catapulted her to fame. Her daughter. Elizabeth I is remembered as one of England’s greatest rulers. “Good Queen Bess”, “Virgin Queen” “Glorianna”, there is no shortage of titles that history has bestowed on her. But when it comes to Anne, people are still divided.

How do we view her? How do we judge a woman whose moral ambiguity still troubles many? The answer is simple and sometimes the simplest answer is the best: We view her as a woman of her times, a woman of her status, who rose too high and who was brought down by various factors. Some of them her doing, many of them not. Once we do this, a new picture of Anne starts to emerge -the same one which Amy Licence brings back to life in this stunning biography of one of England’s infamous femme-fatale.

Those of you interested in learning more about women’s lives, the struggles they faced, and how they used their different strengths to survive and fight against the rising tide, will devour this book.

Few historians choose to focus on women’s lives, and on the harsh realities that others had to face. And even fewer historians choose not to shy away from the less than flamboyant details that these people had to face, and this includes women’s hygiene, their ordeals during pregnancy, widowhood, and general views regarding these by the old and new church.
Ultimately, this biography is a great addition to our Tudor history bookshelves and more importantly to women’s history as it reminds us why Anne Boleyn is still relevant, and how easy it is for her story to be misappropriated or distorted. It is a product of the ever changing times just as she was a product of hers.

The Burial of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

Margaret Douglas
Margaret Douglas

On the 3rd of April 1578, Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, was buried at the lady chapel in Westminster Abbey. Despite being referred by her late half-brother, James V of Scotland, as his “natural sister”, she was given the full honors of a Princess.

Margaret was the mother of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots who was suspected of his mother. Margaret initially suspected her as well until she changed her mind, and took her daughter-in-law’s side.

After Mary Stuart became Elizabeth I’s captive, Margaret and her husband, Matthew Stewart, the Earl of Lennox, worked tirelessly to secure their grandson, James VI, King of Scots’ future. After his regent was assassinated, the Earl was sent to rule on his grandson’s behalf but he too was assassinated.

Margaret spent her last seven years securing Protestant noble alliances. Despite being Mary I of England’s best friend and confidant, she always made sure not to be too partisan. When Elizabeth became Queen, some of her close associates blamed Margaret Douglas for Elizabeth’s imprisonment during her half-sister’s reign. There were rumors that Mary wished to do the same thing her half-brother had done by overriding their father’s will, taking Elizabeth out of the line of succession and naming Margaret her heir instead. Whether this is true or not, Mary decided not to repeat Edward VI’s mistake, leaving their father’s will unchanged which enabled a peaceful transition of power -that was much needed in England- for Elizabeth to become Queen.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth’s councilors succeeded in making their mistress paranoid. It didn’t help that Margaret like their Tudor ancestress and her namesake, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, had ambitions of her own. Although Elizabeth I had pushed for a union between Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots, she decided against it, and instead proposed her favorite, Robert Dudley -going so far as to ennoble him and propose to her royal cousin that the three of them live at court.
For obvious reasons, Mary didn’t like this idea, and decided to accept her cousin Margaret and her son’s offer instead. When Elizabeth found out that Henry Stewart and his father were headed off to Scotland, she put his mother under house arrest. The wedding still went ahead but the newlyweds soon realized how mismatched they were. Henry was described as arrogant and uppity, having expected more than the decorative title of King Consort, while Mary’s only interest in him was his bloodline and his availability to provide her with heirs.

After Darnley died and she married Bothwell, her enemies moved against her, forcing her to give up her crown. With Bothwell out of the way and having miscarried twins, she felt hopeless. She wasn’t getting any sympathy after she fled to England, hoping she’d find support from Elizabeth there, from her mother-in-law. After a few years had passed, Margaret’s view of the former Queen of Scots changed. But there was little that Margaret could do for her daughter-in-law. As far as she knew it, the future lay with her grandson. She envisioned that through him, she’d be triumphant. She was right. Before she died, she commissioned the “Lennox jewel” which portrayed her grandson as the King of Scots and the future King of England. That heart shaped shaped locket best describes her as someone “who hopes still constantly with patience shall obtain victory in their claim”. And she did prove to be the most patient in the end.

Donating to the Anglican church and Elizabeth I’s top councilors, as well as endearing herself to her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, Margaret assured that her legacy would remain. On February 1578, she received the Earl on her house. After he left, she fell ill. Knowing it might be the end, she wrote her last testament days later on the twenty sixth still in “perfect mind” and “good health of body”. In it, she asked the body of her son younger son Charles (who had died years before leaving only a daughter, Arbella), be buried with her at Westminster. She died a week and a half later in March 10th, and on April 3, she had a funeral worthy of a Princess.

Margaret Douglas as England’s first Christian Queen Regnant, Mary I, has often been neglected in history. While she doesn’t suffer from the over-deification of Elizabeth or the vilification of Mary I (and in this she is perhaps the most lucky of Tudor women), she’s suffered from neglect. Not to mention in fiction where she’s especially absent. Recently though, she has appeared on Reign season four where she is portrayed as a doting but domineering mother, who is equal in ambition and political aptitude as her royal cousin, Queen Elizabeth. While Reign is one of the least accurate series to date, the way Margaret is portrayed is not completely false.

While she was never a queen nor title holder in her own right, she made history in her own way by ensuring the continuation of her bloodline, and securing her oldest grandchild’s inheritance. She was a woman who knew how to play the dangerous game of politics, and got away with each of her schemes. Following the moral code of the day, she used her position as wife and mother to get ahead, and survive the Tudor court -something that wasn’t easily achieved by anyone, let alone a woman.

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The Lennox Jewel was commissioned by Margaret Douglas and it depicted her ambitions for her grandson, James VI, to become King of England. He was the fulfillment of her legacy.

Buried with the founders of the Tudor Dynasty, Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York, Margaret Douglas sent a powerful message: That it would be her line which would endure, ruling as Kings and Queens of all the British Isles after Elizabeth was gone.

Some of her contemporaries described her as “a lady of most pious character, invincible spirit, and matchless steadfastness … mighty in virtue … mightier in lineage” and a “progenitor of princes” in her son Darnley and in her grandson, James VI of Scotland and I of England.

Sources:

A Not So Happy New Year

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On New Year’s Day 1540, Henry VIII decided to surprise Anne of Cleves, dressed as Robin Hood with his band of merry men. Henry had always been a lover of chivalry and had pulled similar stunts throughout his entire life, especially in his young life with his foreign queen, Katherine of Aragon. This was no different, but Anne who had a strict upbringing was totally unaware of these kinds of antics and when Henry approached her and asked to give her a kiss, she was (unsurprisingly) alarmed and insulted and rebuffed him.

AOC Six Wives

Prior to moving to the Bishop’s Palace on Rochester, Anne had arrived at Deal on Kent, from there she went on a small tour, greeting many officials including the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, Charles and Catherine Brandon. Anne had asked some of the English courtiers to explain to her various English customs, such as how to sit during a meal, and the different kinds of card games. But this was another thing entirely, and most importantly it was unexpected.

Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church
Henry VIII of England.

Anne knew she was supposed to meet her husband, and given what had happened to his previous wives, she was probably aware of his reputation. But she was taken by surprise by his sudden arrival. Officials had told her that she and the King would meet when she reached Greenwich on the third of January, in two days time. She was standing near a window, watching a bullfight when the King and his men burst in.

When he revealed who he was, Anne was deeply embarrassed and tried to apologize and engage in idle chatter but the damage was already done. After this, it was pretty much decided that things would not go as planned, or as Cromwell planned them.

Much has been said about Anne’s appearance from this meeting. Some historians still buy into the myth that she was ugly, and much of this stems from the apocryphal story that Henry swore he was being forced to marry a “Flanders’ mare” but this tale doesn’t come until much later and is much a secondary source as anything else that says something similar.

As soon as Henry was given her portrait and began to have doubts about this alliance, Cromwell would try to regain his interest by continuously praising the appearance of a woman neither of them had met yet, and saying how she was the epitome of beauty. Cromwell knew that he was playing with fire, but he was so sure of his position and the influence he had over the King (as his previous master once had) that he didn’t think about the dangerous possibility of the King’s possible dislike of her once he met her, or her ignorance regarding the king’s antics.

Anne of Cleves 3
X-Rays from one of her portraits have revealed a longer nose which Holbein covered up in an effort to make her more attractive for the king. And notice what I say here, more attractive for the King. Henry VIII was an extremely vain man who was attracted to anything that was good to look at because as King, he had to have the best of the best. But he was also deeply obsessed with his manliness, and as such, the thought of somebody refusing him, wounded his male pride. And not surprisingly, this became more important to him than the Cleves alliance or his other need, to give the kingdom a much needed Duke of York to secure the Tudor Dynasty.

Sources:

  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman

Catherine of Aragon: Pulling no punches!

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On the 30th of November 1529, Queen Catherine of Aragon confronted her husband and spared no punches, telling him that she’s had enough of his abuse and demands to be treated better.

Eustace Chapuys the Tudors

According to the new Imperial Ambassador –Eustace Chapuys (who has substituted Inigo de Mendoza in September)- Catherine “said to him that she had long been suffering the pains of Purgatory on earth, and that she was very badly treated by his refusing to dine with and visit her in her apartments.”

This act reflects greatly on her character, revealing that Catherine was not the type of woman to sit quietly and wait for someone to rescue her. She was very influential in the first years of her husband’s reign and tolerated most of his affairs but she had her limits and Henry often pushed the boundaries of their relationship with his affairs. Her first protest came when she found about Lady Anne (Buckingham’s sister) in 1510, after she suffered her first miscarriage. The second and less well known was after Henry Fitzroy’s ennoblement was made public. The fact that he was illegitimate and was given so many titles that were associated with royal legitimate heirs, put him in an almost equal position to her daughter, and that alarmed her. The third and best known is this one.

0Henry and Catherine

 

The Blackfriars trial was one thing. Speaking to Henry in private was another. She was a great actress and her works of charity and regency in 1513 had endeared her with the common people but behind close quarters she was going to speak more frankly than she’d ever done with him.
On St. Andrew’s Day after they feasted, she reproached Henry and told her to be a “good prince and husband” to her again and abandon his mistress and recognize her as his “true and lawful wife”. Henry coldly replied that she had no cause to complain and that she
was mistress of her house and could as she pleased” and had treated her with respect throughout the years (conveniently forgetting all these past incidents) and added that “as to his visiting her in her apartment and partaking of her bed, she ought to know that he was not her legitimate husband, as innumerable doctors and canonists, all men of honor and probity, and even his own almoner, Doctor Lee, who had once known her in Spain, were ready to maintain.”

But Catherine, who did not flinch as others would have done at his cold words, calmly replied that for every doctor or lawyer he found “I shall find a thousand”.

Anne Boleyn Hever Classic

Anne, who had served Catherine and knew she wasn’t the type of woman to shy away from an argument, reproached Henry and said: “Did I not tell you that whenever you disputed with the Queen she was sure to have the upper hand?”

Catherine had won yet another verbal battle, but she knew this was far from over. Catherine wrote many letters to her nephew and to the pope exhorting them to act. To the latter she was very bold with, she was a loyal Catholic but she was not averse to use strong language when it suited her and it wasn’t just her future that was at stake but her daughter’s as well.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

HERstory: 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.

"Katherine was old and prudish" That’s how we think of Henry VIII’s first wife but read a good history book and about the attitudes they had of sex back then and it wasn’t as prudish as you think and yes! It shows KOA was no prude. "Judging by the rapidity of Catherine’s conception in the early years of the marriage, their physical relationship was close. A surviving manuscript from 1440, ‘Jacob’s Well’. outlines contemporary expectations for moderate, appropriate sex withing marriage […] The text also reminded married couples that foreplay could lead to impurity and sin …” But the other literature of the day also encouraged foreplay and judging by how passionate their relationship was described, and how passionate Katherine became each time she saw Henry (and it was Henry who sought her more than she him as he was a young man in love who’d been besotted by her since childhood), it is fairly obvious to assume they couldn’t keep their hands off one another. So before we go ‘oh but that was only with Anne Boleyn and Kitty Howard’, read the story of these two and as for the latter, read a good book on Katherine Howard because I can’t tell you how mad I get when people have this erroneous view of Katherine Howard as this sex-kitten, lust-driven woman when in fact she was much different and she *did* try to bring all the family together as they all had their separate establishments (and the issue with Mary was resolved in less than a month and before you knew it, she and the queen were out in progresses and giving each other gifts like crazy. And she also did a lot to help Mary’s imprisoned friend and former governess, Margaret Pole by sending her tailor and new shoes for her to wear and whether or not she appealed to her husband to have mercy on her -it is likely given how attentive she was, that she did- he obviously didn’t listen to her).  Furthermore, Amy Licence adds: "The literature of the day suggests a fairly pragmatic and direct approach to sex, with an emphasis on the need for female enjoynment -within the correct religious lines- and far less prudish than might initially be supposed. It was considered imperative for a woman to ‘emit seed’ in order to conceive, so her husband was instructed to ‘smoothly stroke his lady, breasts and belly to excite’. Another fourteenth century text, written by Edward II’s doctor of physic, advised a man to ‘arouse a woman to intercourse’ by speaking, kissing and embracing her, ‘to caress her breasts and touch her between the perneum and vulva and to strike her buttocks with the purpose that the woman desires … and when the woman begins to speak with a stammer, then they ought to copulate’. Another technique suggested by a medieval advise manual was ‘froting’ or ‘rubbing, ‘when a man hath great liking between him and his wife in bed’. With the imperative to conceive an heir, Catherine and Henry need have felt little guilt in attempting to achieve the Church’s primary concern of wedlock, whatever foreplay they decided to employ.”  So their relationship, cold, strictly puritanical and less sexy when we compare it to his second marriage? I don’t think so.
“Katherine was old and prudish” That’s how we think of Henry VIII’s first wife but read a good history book and about the attitudes they had of sex back then and it wasn’t as prudish as you think and yes! It shows KOA was no prude. “Judging by the rapidity of Catherine’s conception in the early years of the marriage, their physical relationship was close. A surviving manuscript from 1440, ‘Jacob’s Well’. outlines contemporary expectations for moderate, appropriate sex withing marriage […] The text also reminded married couples that foreplay could lead to impurity and sin …” But the other literature of the day also encouraged foreplay and judging by how passionate their relationship was described, and how passionate Katherine became each time she saw Henry (and it was Henry who sought her more than she him as he was a young man in love who’d been besotted by her since childhood), it is fairly obvious to assume they couldn’t keep their hands off one another. So before we go ‘oh but that was only with Anne Boleyn and Kitty Howard’, read the story of these two and as for the latter, read a good book on Katherine Howard because I can’t tell you how mad I get when people have this erroneous view of Katherine Howard as this sex-kitten, lust-driven woman when in fact she was much different and she *did* try to bring all the family together as they all had their separate establishments (and the issue with Mary was resolved in less than a month and before you knew it, she and the queen were out in progresses and giving each other gifts like crazy. And she also did a lot to help Mary’s imprisoned friend and former governess, Margaret Pole by sending her tailor and new shoes for her to wear and whether or not she appealed to her husband to have mercy on her -it is likely given how attentive she was, that she did- he obviously didn’t listen to her).
Furthermore, Amy Licence adds: “The literature of the day suggests a fairly pragmatic and direct approach to sex, with an emphasis on the need for female enjoynment -within the correct religious lines- and far less prudish than might initially be supposed. It was considered imperative for a woman to ‘emit seed’ in order to conceive, so her husband was instructed to ‘smoothly stroke his lady, breasts and belly to excite’. Another fourteenth century text, written by Edward II’s doctor of physic, advised a man to ‘arouse a woman to intercourse’ by speaking, kissing and embracing her, ‘to caress her breasts and touch her between the perneum and vulva and to strike her buttocks with the purpose that the woman desires … and when the woman begins to speak with a stammer, then they ought to copulate’. Another technique suggested by a medieval advise manual was ‘froting’ or ‘rubbing, ‘when a man hath great liking between him and his wife in bed’.
With the imperative to conceive an heir, Catherine and Henry need have felt little guilt in attempting to achieve the Church’s primary concern of wedlock, whatever foreplay they decided to employ.”
So their relationship, cold, strictly puritanical and less sexy when we compare it to his second marriage? I don’t think so.
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.

"With Henry’s letters making his desire clear, was Anne intimidated by his courtship and status into complicity? Did she see an opportunity and take it? Or had she, by the end of 1526, fallen in love with the king, or with the idea of becoming Queen?  A number of possible interpretations for her actions could make sense, depending upon different readings of the tone of the king’s letters. If Anne was not in love with Henry, she may have agreed to marry him as the ultimate prize in the marital stakes. This would not have been a cynical move; it would be entirely consistent with the arranged matches that families made to advance their fortunes and establish strong dynastic connections. Everyone was looking to ‘marry up’, and Anne was no exception. Perhaps she was exhilarated by the rewards Henry could offer and decided to play the game. She may also, along the way, have developed feelings for him. She may have not. This would make her an absolutely typical woman of her times and no different from Henry’s other wives. However the romantic possibility remains that she fell in love with him; either at the start while resisting his advances out of loyalty or belief that they would not lead to marriage, or as their relationship developed. We will probably never know.” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII.
“With Henry’s letters making his desire clear, was Anne intimidated by his courtship and status into complicity? Did she see an opportunity and take it? Or had she, by the end of 1526, fallen in love with the king, or with the idea of becoming Queen?
A number of possible interpretations for her actions could make sense, depending upon different readings of the tone of the king’s letters. If Anne was not in love with Henry, she may have agreed to marry him as the ultimate prize in the marital stakes. This would not have been a cynical move; it would be entirely consistent with the arranged matches that families made to advance their fortunes and establish strong dynastic connections. Everyone was looking to ‘marry up’, and Anne was no exception. Perhaps she was exhilarated by the rewards Henry could offer and decided to play the game. She may also, along the way, have developed feelings for him. She may have not. This would make her an absolutely typical woman of her times and no different from Henry’s other wives. However the romantic possibility remains that she fell in love with him; either at the start while resisting his advances out of loyalty or belief that they would not lead to marriage, or as their relationship developed. We will probably never know.” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII.

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.

Katherine Parr as Henry's sixth wife according to Amy Licence who dispels the myths about the wives and his mistresses, was more than just a 'nurse' to Henry. Henry had more than enough nurses and physicians to attend to his health, as she notes. At this stage, Henry realized it was less likely he would ever have another son, so he married Katherine for companionship and he'd been drawn to her early on for her charisma.  Katherine went on to become very popular with his subjects and family. "Catherine was a good catch. At almost thirty-one, she was experienced and wise [...] According to John Foxe, she possessed 'rare gifts of nature, as singular beauty, favor and a comely personage; things wherein the king was delighted', as well as the 'virtues of her mind'. Her appearance was 'lively' and 'pleasing' and her 'cheerful countenance', as painted by William Scrots, shows a round, open face with brown or auburn hair and the fashionable pale skin. A second image by Lucas Horenbout depicts her with a slimmer face and lighter hair."   She was as Henry's first wife and probably her namesake (due that her mother Maud Parr was fiercely loyal to Katherine of Aragon, and Katherine Parr was very connected to almost every prominent family in court, far more than his other two English wives), deeply religious, although she her opposite in terms of her religion. She encouraged both of her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to do a translation of Erasmus' 'Paragraphs of the Gospel of St. John' and Marguerite of Navarre's 'The Mirror of the Sinful Soul' respectively. As a Queen, she excelled in her position and she was very beloved by everyone, including the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who shortly before his leave in May 1545, described her as "worthy of her position". The only person who showed discomfort at their union was Anne of Cleves. And this was because there were rumors as she points out in her book, that Henry would take her back and reinforce the Cleves alliance, but these came to nothing after he'd executed Katherine Howard. Anne of Cleves' main disappointment was that he had married a woman "not nearly as beautiful as she". Regardless of this, Katherine went on to do a lot during her nearly four year reign as Queen consort. Besides encouraging her stepdaughters' education, she also surrounded herself with prominent scholars and like-minded and prominent women, some who were related to the king by marriage or by blood.  "Catherine's household included her close friend Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, and her cousin Maud, along with many ladies who had formerly served Henry's previous wives: Mary Countess of Arundel; Joan, Lady Denny; Lady Margaret Douglas; Jane Dudley, Lady Lisle; Anne Bassett; Jane, Lady Wriothesley; and Mary Wotton, Lady Carew [...] Anne Stanhope, Lady Hertford. A Francis Goldsmith, writing to give thanks to Catherine for giving him a place as chaplain in her household, lavished her with praise: 'God has so formed her mind for pious studies that she considers everything of small value compared to Christ. Her rare goodness has made every day like Snday, a thing hitherto unheard of, especially in a royal palace [...] In addition to her ladies, George Day, Bishop of Chicester, served her as her almoner and humanist scholar Sir Anthony Cope as her vice-chamberlain, along with her master of the horse, secretary, chaplains, physicians, apothecary, clerk of the closet and her learned council which contained lawyers."  And in addition, she was the second and last wife to serve as his Regent. The other one was her namesake, Katherine of Aragon when she had been appointed by Henry as well when he was off fighting in France. In spite of his delicate condition and his doctors' advice, Henry went on to Calais and then to Bologne anyway, keen on fulfilling his wishes of grandeur. Catherine was appointed Regent on July the seventh of 1544, a council was set up to help her govern headed by Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and secretary Sir William Petre "who were to report to her once a month on the state of the country." As Regent, Licence notes, she wasted no time. She took her position seriously combining the role of the humble and obedient wife with "the strength and steel required to oversee the running of the country, from dealing with the Scottish prisoners to equipping the French campaign." She enforced her will on his ministers and urged the officials in the Northern borders to send her regular reports.  But not all was well. When Henry was back, one of the most important English reformers, a woman by the name of Anne Askew was sentenced to die as a heretic and she was burned at the stake. An investigation was conducted where the Queen's ladies were interrogated but all conducted themselves with dignity and said nothing to incriminate their mistress. Some wonder whether Foxe's account in the book of martyrs is truly true or just a fabrication. Historian Leanda de Lisle in her recent biography of the Tudors, says it was probably a mixture of both while Amy Licence believes it was mostly true. According to Foxe, Katherine had challenged Henry on the gospel and this encouraged him to agree to Gardiner's demands to investigate her and find evidence that would incriminate her. None was found and this was probably owed to the fact that someone in the king's confidence had tipped her off. This 'someone' was probably Doctor Butts who was a staunch Protestant and therefore, had every reason not to wish the queen see a similar fate to that of the poor Anne Askew. Before his ministers could go to Henry and convinced him any further, she went to his chambers and dropped to her knees in a very humble gesture as she had showed him before in private and told him that "Your Majesty has very much mistaken me, for I have always held it preposterous for a woman to instruct her lord." No doubt she was terrified. But "her clever and quick response" worked and Henry afterwards acted as if nothing had happened.  Katherine had been instrumental in the reinstatement of her royal stepdaughters into the line of succession and was a great friend to Mary whom she was closer to in age, and contrary to the image of the bookworm, she was very outgoing. When she was not busy encouraging her stepdaughters to translate or discussing humanist and reformist thought with the circle of women and family who attended her, she danced, wore the latest fashions and engaged in other diversions, expected of queens. "The new queen enjoyed dancing and poetry as much as her predecessors."  She was away when Henry was dying but she recognized the signs having been married before, especially to Lord Latimer, her second husband.   "Henry made provisions for her future, allowing her a generous annual allowance of 7000 pounds and stipulating that she should be afforded the treatment due to a queen, although she was not appointed to act as regent for the young king to be."   Immediately following his death, Katherine considered remarrying and months after she did to Thomas Seymour, the man she had always intended before Henry came into the picture. Her marriage to Seymour however turned out to be a sadder affair for her. After she discovered his intentions with Elizabeth, she dismissed her stepdaughter with a warning. She was pregnant at this time and following her stepdaughter's removal and her heartbreak over the situation, she somehow made peace with her husband (probably for practical reasons or because she felt there was nothing else she could do) and the couple moved to Sudeley Castle where she went into labor six weeks later and died six days after her only offspring's birth. Her husband followed her when he was discovered conspiring with her brother William Parr and the Greys and was found having a secret dinner with Jane Grey's uncle discussing the removal of his brother, the Protector among other "treasonous activities including the wooing of Princess Elizabeth." He was executed and their daughter, named Mary after her stepdaughter, Mary Tudor, was given to her friend, the Duchess Dowager of Suffolk but the infant also died.  "Her tomb in the chapel at Sudeley Castle is inscribed with the words of her chaplain, Dr. Parkhurst:  In this new tomb, the royal Katherine lies  Flower of her sex, renowned, great and wise.  A wife by every nuptial virtue known  A faithful partner once of Henry's throne.  To Seymour next her plighted hand she yields  (Seymour who Neptune's trident justly wields.)  From him a beauteous daughter blessed her arms  An infant copy of her parents' charms  When now seven days this tender flower had bloomed  Heaven in its wrath the mother's soul resumed.  Great Katherine's merit in our grief appears  While fair Britannia dews her cheek with tears,  Or loyal breast with rising sighs are torn With the Saints she triumphs, we with mortals mourn."
Katherine Parr as Henry’s sixth wife according to Amy Licence who dispels the myths about the wives and his mistresses, was more than just a ‘nurse’ to Henry. Henry had more than enough nurses and physicians to attend to his health, as she notes. At this stage, Henry realized it was less likely he would ever have another son, so he married Katherine for companionship and he’d been drawn to her early on for her charisma.
Katherine went on to become very popular with his subjects and family. “Catherine was a good catch. At almost thirty-one, she was experienced and wise […] According to John Foxe, she possessed ‘rare gifts of nature, as singular beauty, favor and a comely personage; things wherein the king was delighted’, as well as the ‘virtues of her mind’. Her appearance was ‘lively’ and ‘pleasing’ and her ‘cheerful countenance’, as painted by William Scrots, shows a round, open face with brown or auburn hair and the fashionable pale skin. A second image by Lucas Horenbout depicts her with a slimmer face and lighter hair.”
She was as Henry’s first wife and probably her namesake (due that her mother Maud Parr was fiercely loyal to Katherine of Aragon, and Katherine Parr was very connected to almost every prominent family in court, far more than his other two English wives), deeply religious, although she her opposite in terms of her religion. She encouraged both of her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to do a translation of Erasmus’ ‘Paragraphs of the Gospel of St. John’ and Marguerite of Navarre’s ‘The Mirror of the Sinful Soul’ respectively. As a Queen, she excelled in her position and she was very beloved by everyone, including the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who shortly before his leave in May 1545, described her as “worthy of her position”.
The only person who showed discomfort at their union was Anne of Cleves. And this was because there were rumors as she points out in her book, that Henry would take her back and reinforce the Cleves alliance, but these came to nothing after he’d executed Katherine Howard. Anne of Cleves’ main disappointment was that he had married a woman “not nearly as beautiful as she”. Regardless of this, Katherine went on to do a lot during her nearly four year reign as Queen consort. Besides encouraging her stepdaughters’ education, she also surrounded herself with prominent scholars and like-minded and prominent women, some who were related to the king by marriage or by blood.
“Catherine’s household included her close friend Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, and her cousin Maud, along with many ladies who had formerly served Henry’s previous wives: Mary Countess of Arundel; Joan, Lady Denny; Lady Margaret Douglas; Jane Dudley, Lady Lisle; Anne Bassett; Jane, Lady Wriothesley; and Mary Wotton, Lady Carew […] Anne Stanhope, Lady Hertford. A Francis Goldsmith, writing to give thanks to Catherine for giving him a place as chaplain in her household, lavished her with praise: ‘God has so formed her mind for pious studies that she considers everything of small value compared to Christ. Her rare goodness has made every day like Snday, a thing hitherto unheard of, especially in a royal palace […] In addition to her ladies, George Day, Bishop of Chicester, served her as her almoner and humanist scholar Sir Anthony Cope as her vice-chamberlain, along with her master of the horse, secretary, chaplains, physicians, apothecary, clerk of the closet and her learned council which contained lawyers.”
And in addition, she was the second and last wife to serve as his Regent. The other one was her namesake, Katherine of Aragon when she had been appointed by Henry as well when he was off fighting in France. In spite of his delicate condition and his doctors’ advice, Henry went on to Calais and then to Bologne anyway, keen on fulfilling his wishes of grandeur. Catherine was appointed Regent on July the seventh of 1544, a council was set up to help her govern headed by Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and secretary Sir William Petre “who were to report to her once a month on the state of the country.” As Regent, Licence notes, she wasted no time. She took her position seriously combining the role of the humble and obedient wife with “the strength and steel required to oversee the running of the country, from dealing with the Scottish prisoners to equipping the French campaign.” She enforced her will on his ministers and urged the officials in the Northern borders to send her regular reports.
But not all was well. When Henry was back, one of the most important English reformers, a woman by the name of Anne Askew was sentenced to die as a heretic and she was burned at the stake. An investigation was conducted where the Queen’s ladies were interrogated but all conducted themselves with dignity and said nothing to incriminate their mistress. Some wonder whether Foxe’s account in the book of martyrs is truly true or just a fabrication. Historian Leanda de Lisle in her recent biography of the Tudors, says it was probably a mixture of both while Amy Licence believes it was mostly true. According to Foxe, Katherine had challenged Henry on the gospel and this encouraged him to agree to Gardiner’s demands to investigate her and find evidence that would incriminate her. None was found and this was probably owed to the fact that someone in the king’s confidence had tipped her off. This ‘someone’ was probably Doctor Butts who was a staunch Protestant and therefore, had every reason not to wish the queen see a similar fate to that of the poor Anne Askew. Before his ministers could go to Henry and convinced him any further, she went to his chambers and dropped to her knees in a very humble gesture as she had showed him before in private and told him that “Your Majesty has very much mistaken me, for I have always held it preposterous for a woman to instruct her lord.” No doubt she was terrified. But “her clever and quick response” worked and Henry afterwards acted as if nothing had happened.
Katherine had been instrumental in the reinstatement of her royal stepdaughters into the line of succession and was a great friend to Mary whom she was closer to in age, and contrary to the image of the bookworm, she was very outgoing. When she was not busy encouraging her stepdaughters to translate or discussing humanist and reformist thought with the circle of women and family who attended her, she danced, wore the latest fashions and engaged in other diversions, expected of queens. “The new queen enjoyed dancing and poetry as much as her predecessors.”
She was away when Henry was dying but she recognized the signs having been married before, especially to Lord Latimer, her second husband.
“Henry made provisions for her future, allowing her a generous annual allowance of 7000 pounds and stipulating that she should be afforded the treatment due to a queen, although she was not appointed to act as regent for the young king to be.”
Immediately following his death, Katherine considered remarrying and months after she did to Thomas Seymour, the man she had always intended before Henry came into the picture. Her marriage to Seymour however turned out to be a sadder affair for her. After she discovered his intentions with Elizabeth, she dismissed her stepdaughter with a warning. She was pregnant at this time and following her stepdaughter’s removal and her heartbreak over the situation, she somehow made peace with her husband (probably for practical reasons or because she felt there was nothing else she could do) and the couple moved to Sudeley Castle where she went into labor six weeks later and died six days after her only offspring’s birth. Her husband followed her when he was discovered conspiring with her brother William Parr and the Greys and was found having a secret dinner with Jane Grey’s uncle discussing the removal of his brother, the Protector among other “treasonous activities including the wooing of Princess Elizabeth.” He was executed and their daughter, named Mary after her stepdaughter, Mary Tudor, was given to her friend, the Duchess Dowager of Suffolk but the infant also died.
“Her tomb in the chapel at Sudeley Castle is inscribed with the words of her chaplain, Dr. Parkhurst:
In this new tomb, the royal Katherine lies
Flower of her sex, renowned, great and wise.
A wife by every nuptial virtue known
A faithful partner once of Henry’s throne.
To Seymour next her plighted hand she yields
(Seymour who Neptune’s trident justly wields.)
From him a beauteous daughter blessed her arms
An infant copy of her parents’ charms
When now seven days this tender flower had bloomed
Heaven in its wrath the mother’s soul resumed.
Great Katherine’s merit in our grief appears
While fair Britannia dews her cheek with tears,
Or loyal breast with rising sighs are torn
With the Saints she triumphs, we with mortals mourn.”

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.