Showing posts with label Henry VIII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Henry VIII. Show all posts

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII- Anne of Cleves-The King's Sister

Anne of Cleves and Henry had a very inauspicious start, and the romantic part of their relationship went from bad to worse. They were married for only six months, but Anne outlived Henry and all his other queens. Why? Because despite her reputation to the contrary, Anne was really fricking smart.

Image result for anne of cleves holbein
The Hoblein painting of Anne
The story of how they first met is one of my favorites, so I'm going to tell it. Anne had just arrived in England, and Henry, in typical Henry fashion, decides to dress up with a bunch of his dudebros, and surprise Anne and her ladies. Henry and his men crept into Anne's rooms, and while Anne was distracted watching some bull-baiting, Henry grabbed her from behind, and kissed her.

Now, you have to understand, Henry was a great lover of courtly romance, he was something of a LARPer, and liked to dress up and act out the tales of chivalry. He'd pulled this stunt before with his previous wives, but they had recognized him, and submitted to him willingly, making the experience romantic, if not 100% consensual.

Anne, on the other hand, didn't know Henry from Hans Christian Andersen. She pushed him away, and started cursing him in German. Henry didn't like that. Combine his hurt pride with the fact that he wasn't too thrilled with her appearance, well, the royal couple was off to a bad start.

A note about Anne's person, there's a popular myth that Henry once called her a "Flander's Mare", and complained of her body odor and sagging breasts. Two out of these three things are true. There is no proof that Henry ever compared Anne to a horse, and in fact, this phrase was coined by Bishop Gilbert Burnett in the late 1600s, long after Anne's death.

Additionally, there's no real proof that Anne was ugly at all! While she certainly wasn't a fair English Rose like Jane Seymour, or a dark beauty like Anne Boleyn, contemporary accounts describe her as being tall and large boned, but also mention her as being a beauty. Even Henry himself admitted that she was 'semelye'.

Image result for anne of cleves holbein sketch
A sketch of either Anne or her sister
And then there's the portrait. Hans Hoblein the younger, arguably the most famous English painter of Henry's reign, was dispatched to Europe to paint pictures of all the ladies Henry was considering. Henry was used to marrying for love, and he insisted on a pretty bride. Henry liked the portrait enough that he chose Anne. Now, it's often said that Hoblein misrepresented the lady, but this seems unlikely, primarily because Mr. Hoblein kept his head. Henry had a hot temper, and if his friend and closest adviser Thomas Cromwell fell from grace and lost his head over the Cleves affair, there's no doubt that Hoblein could as well. But Hoblein remained in the king's employ until his death of the plague, so he couldn't have messed up too badly.

In addition to lack of physical attraction, there were also some cultural differences. Henry was used to sophisticated, educated women, who were talented at art and music. In the court of Cleves it wasn't deemed proper for a young lady to train in those things, and Anne's education focused more on needlework and household management. She, like Henry, liked to play cards, but that was really the only interest the couple had in common.

Despite Henry's complete and utter revulsion to his bride, he married her anyways, unwillingly albeit. He reportedly could not bring himself to sleep with her, though if that was because of his aversion to Anne or his own impotence is anyone's guess. Anne confirmed that the most they ever did was kiss, which was very convenient when annulment time came around.

And annulment time did come around, before Henry had even married Anne, he was looking for a way out of his marriage, and, as per the usual, he found it. The marriage was annulled on grounds of non consummation and pre-contract. It's what comes after that distinguishes Anne from Henry's other wives.

Image result for anne of cleves the tudors
If I may digress, one of the MANY things that
bothers me about the Showtime series The Tudors
is that this beautiful woman plays Anne of
Cleves, but Henry spends like three episodes
stomping around calling her ugly? Like, is
he blind? Where the producers blind? This
woman is gorgeous!
See, unlike Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, who both went down unwillingly in a blaze of glory, Anne simply stepped aside. She said 'sure bro, whatever you want', and retired to the countryside. Henry was so grateful that he gave her several castles, a large income, and complete freedom to live independently in England or return to Cleves as she saw fit.  Anne stayed in England, and despite any lack of physical attraction, she and Henry became friends. Henry referred to her as 'my royal sister', and gave her precedence over any woman in the kingdom excepting his daughters and his flavor of the month.

Henry wanted his way, and Anne was smart enough to give it to him. Be that because she had no objection to an annulment (which wouldn't be surprising given how unpleasant and unattractive Henry was), or because she'd learned from her predecessor's mistakes. Out of that, she gained a friend, substantial wealth, and something that few women of her era had-complete freedom. I think it's very telling that she never went back to Cleves, or married after Henry.

Out of all of Henry's wives, Anne of Cleves is the stable one, the rock in the giant Tudor storm. She was never in danger of execution through the reigns of Henry, Edward, or Mary, and though she fell from favor somewhat towards the end of her life, she was considered family, and held in high regard by both the people and the Tudor family. She outlived all of Henry's wives, and, was reportedly, very happy.

Part One   Part Two   Part Three  Part Four   Part Five   Part Six   Part Seven   Part Eight


Henry VIII: The Charismatic King Who Reforged a Nation by Kathy Elgin

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII- Jane Seymour, the One Who 'Got It Right'

Good Queen Jane looked a bit like Mrs. Nunez, my eighth grade algebra teacher. There, I said it. I've been thinking that for nearly ten years now, it's about time someone knows. Everyone says I'm crazy, but if it wasn't seriously uncool, I'd put pictures of them side by side to prove it.
Image result for jane seymour queen
Mrs. Nunez had the same shaped nose,
same chin, same sort of eyes. Jane was
reportedly a strawberry blond, so that's
different, but other than that, they could
be twins.

Aside from looking like my eighth grade algebra teacher, Jane was also Henry's favorite queen. Not only was her meek and amiable nature a refreshing change from the tempestuous Anne Boleyn, but she stayed out of politics, and gave him the thing he craved the most, a son.

Where Anne was passionate, witty, and outspoken, Jane was quiet and mild. Like Anne, she had an ambitious family who used her to rise socially; unlike the Boleyns, however, the Seymours were lastingly successful at it. During Edward's minority Jane's brother, Edward Sr., basically ran the country. But where Anne and her family were pushy and obnoxious, Jane and the Seymours were more laid back. They had the benefit of watching the Anne's catastrophic marriage, and Jane definitely learned from her predecessor's mistakes. Her motto as queen--Bound to Obey and Serve-- really says it all. If she had any strong political opinions she kept them to herself.

Image result for jane seymour queen
Family portrait of Henry, Edward,
 and Jane painted after Jane's death
Jane's tenure as Queen Consort was short, just seventeen months, as opposed to the 24 and 10 years Catherine and Anne had respectively. Arguably, her biggest non-childbearing achievement was reconciling Henry with his eldest daughter Mary. Jane didn't get involved in Henry's affairs much, and she didn't try to push him places he didn't want to go (after Anne's demise, can you blame her?), but on the point of the Princess Mary she remained firm. She pushed for a reconciliation, and she got it, paving the way for Catherine Parr to restore Mary and Elizabeth to the succession.

All in all, Jane's life was very short. She died at only 29 after complications from the birth of her son, Edward. Most historians speculate that she died from puerperal fever, not from a suicidal cesarean section as popular rumor claims. But for such a short lived queen, she had a deep impact on Henry. She was the only queen to be given a queen's funeral, she was painted into family portraits long after her death (even when Henry had remarried), and Henry is buried next to her.

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five   Part Six   Part Seven   Part Eight

The Anne Boleyn Files

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-- Anne Boleyn, the Face that Launched a Reformation

Anne Boleyn was ambitious and smart, could probably have run England all by herself, and she knew it (But more about that later). Is it really a surprise that she was the first of the egomaniac Henry's wives to be executed? Anne was beautiful, refined, and skilled at political maneuvering. She played a major part in ushering in the English Reformation. If anyone can say that they were 'born in the wrong time', Anne Boleyn certainly could. Had she been born in an era where women could hold office and run a country, she would have been the Hilary Clinton of her age, except sexier. She's a sexy Hilary Clinton. Keep that image in your mind as you read the rest of this. ;)

Image result for anne boleynAnne was born sometime between 1501 and 1507 to Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn. Thomas was a favored and talented diplomat, and because of that Anne received her formal education in the court of Margaret of Austria, and her not-so-formal education in the court of Queen Claude of France. She served as a maid of honor to both of those women, spending nearly eight years in Europe before returning to England.

Following her stay on the continent, Anne went through two engagements, which were later broken off. She was sent to the English court to be a maid of honor to Queen Catherine, and this is where she met Henry.

From there the story plays out just as how you remember. Boy meets girl. Boy falls madly in love with girl. Boy is already married, and embarks on a seven year journey to divorce his wife. Boy divorces his wife and marries girl. Girl had a baby. Boy becomes disillusioned. Boy comes up with reasons to behead girl. It's all terribly romantic, no?

No, it's really not romantic at all. Even if it didn't end with Anne being beheaded, there's several reasons why her and Henry's relationship was cringe worthy:
  • Henry was somewhere between nine and fifteen years older than Anne.
  • Henry had done the do with Anne's sister, Mary Carey nee Boleyn. Most historians agree that they even had a child together, Henry Carey, though King Henry never acknowledged his legitimacy.  
  • Both Anne and Henry's treatment of the respected Catherine of Aragon from the time they first became an item until Catherine's death was absolutely terrible. Catherine was slowly forced from her place of prominence, as Anne eclipsed her. Both Henry and Anne were cruel to Catherine, and Catherine was, once again, forced into poverty and cut off from her friends and family.
  • Anne used her position at court to secure political positions for her family and friends, to the point where the Boleyns were practically running the country. The Boleyns were not particularly magnanimous about this turn of events. 
Between her treatment of Catherine, quick temper, and open support for Evangelical ideas, Anne made a lot of enemies. And when Henry started to get irritated with Anne, those enemies pounced on the opportunity to discredit and replace her. Enter Jane Seymour, homewrecker. The Boleyn faction was slowly replaced by the Seymour faction, and Anne was put on trial and beheaded.

Anne's real legacy survives in not only the reign of her daughter, the famous Glorianna, but in the formation of the Anglican church. There's a big chance that Henry would have stayed a devout Catholic had he never met Anne Boleyn. Anne placed pressure on Henry to marry her, and, it is said, placed pamphlets in his hands that promoted reformation ideals. She and her family schemed and maneuvered until she was queen, and unintentionally brought in a reformation that would change England forever.  

Part One     Part Two     Part Three    Part Four  Part Five   Part Six   Part Seven   Part Eight

A Tudor Treasury by Elizabeth Norton
Henry VIII by Kathy Elgin
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
The Other Tudors by Philippa Jones

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII- Catherine 'The Badass' of Aragon

Catherine, or Katherine, Kathryn, Katerine, of Aragon was Henry's first wife, as well as the wife of his elder brother Arthur. She was also one helluva queen of England.

Fun fact, Catherine was a ginger. This is
probably a painting of her.
Catherine was born to the illustrious monarchs of Spain-Ferdinand and Isabella of Christopher Columbus and Moorish Genocide fame. At age three she was betrothed to Arthur, the crown prince of England, and at age sixteen she married him. Unfortunately, after only a year of marriage, he died.

An alternative title for this article was 'Catherine 'Deserved Better Than This' of Aragon', and here's why. If Catherine returned to Spain, her dowry, a substantial 200,000 ducats, which was only half paid, would have to be returned as well, and Henry VII, the King, just wasn't down for that. He wanted to keep the Spanish money, and by extension the Spanish princess, in the family, so finding a suitable second husband for Catherine was a must. Initially, Henry proposed that he marry Catherine, given that Elizabeth of York had died, but seeing as how that was a bit skeevy, he decided to bestow her on Junior, despite the fact that she was five years older than him, and had been married to his brother, which is only slightly less skeevy than marrying her father in law.

It took a while for Catherine to get married for the second time. Her father, King Ferdinand, was being difficult about paying the rest of her dowry, her mother died (meaning that half of her father's kingdom went to her debateably insane sister Juana), and she ended up virtually imprisoned in some English countryside hell hole (a recurring theme throughout poor Catherine's life.)

Eventually though, Papa Henry died, and Junior got to have his way. He married Catherine, and they had a double coronation shortly before Henry's eighteenth birthday. By all accounts, they were happy, and Henry loved his wife.

From here you might know the story. Time passed. Catherine couldn't have sons, only one daughter, Mary. Enter homewrecker Anne Boleyn. Divorce. Reformation. Banishment. Death by poison. (She actually died, most likely, from cancer. But cancer wasn't really a known quantity in renaissance England.)

Catherine in her later years.
It's a sad ending to a promising story. This is also my first piece of evidence in my arguments that Henry VIII was an asshole. Catherine wasn't just a victim and a martyr though. Like I mentioned, she was one helluva queen. The middle parts of her story, the parts we don't usually focus on, are pretty badass, leaving me with no doubt that she was quite the lady. Thomas Cromwell, a contemporary of hers, said "If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History", which is the exact sort of backhanded, misogynistic compliment that you would expect from a Renaissance dude. That being said, Cromwell wasn't wrong. Catherine accomplished quite a bit as Queen, far more than most of Henry's other wives. She did a lot for England and the English people in her own right. You could probably write a book about the 'middle years', but I don't have time, so here's a brief, in no particular order, list.

Badass things that Catherine did
  • Acted as Spanish ambassador to the English Court. She was the first female ambassador in Europe.
  • Rode to the front of her armies in the Battle of Flodden in full armor to deliver a rousing speech Tilbury style, while pregnant. (this raises a lot of questions about what sort of armor one wears while pregnant. Did she just borrow some really big armor? Did they make special pregnancy armor for her?)
  • Nominated for the title of 'Defender of the Faith' for tearing apart Luther's arguments (ironically, her husband later got the title.)
  • Was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, and Queen. At the same time. She esteemed her faith more than power, and was motivated personally and politically by it.
    • But not like, in a expel and kill Jews and Muslims way like her mother. I feel that is important to mention.
  • Continued to insist upon the validity of her marriage, her virginity upon her marriage to Henry, and called herself queen until the day she died, despite significant pressures from Henry and other members of court. 
  • Openly defied the King and Ecclesiastical Court on several occasions.
  • Raised armies to suppress rebellion while acting as Queen Regent when Henry was out of the country.
  • Fought for and popularized education for women. She also helped fund universities.
  • Survived the physical horrors of six pregnancies.
  • Survived the emotional trauma of having five of her children predecease her.
  • Pleaded for the lives of rebels to spare their families.
  • Created welfare programs to benefit the poor. 
What a lady, right? The only problem with Catherine (as far as we can really tell), is that she couldn't have the son that Henry so desperately wanted. Also, she was stubborn, which may not be a problem depending on how you look at it.

Part One     Part Two     Part Three     Part Four    Part Five    Part Six    Part Seven   Part Eight

True Stories From English History by Maria Elizabeth Budden
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-That Prick Henry

We can't really talk about Henry VIII's wives without talking about the man himself. It's unfortunate, but true. Henry VIII is one of my least favorite English monarchs, one of my least favorites figures in history really. If I had a time machine I would definitely use it to go back in time and fight him, maybe lecture him about basic human rights and how to be a good person -- before turning the time machine over to the people prepared to kill Hitler and Stalin of course.

That being said, I'm going to put aside my bias, and attempt to give you a good idea of what sort of man and king Henry was, because unless you understand Henry and the world he ruled, it's a bit difficult to sympathize with the women who married him.

Henry wasn't supposed to become king. Well, his parents hoped he wouldn't have to be king anyways. Not because Henry was in any way unworthy, but because he was the younger son. His older brother, Arthur, was supposed to be king, he was trained to be one, and his parents married him off to a Spanish princess to prove it. But unfortunately, as with so many young men and women of that era, Arthur was sickly and died. Which kinda sucked for Arthur, but was the making of Henry. With Arthur's death Henry became crown prince, and at age 17 his father, Henry VII died, and Junior became Henry VIII, King of England (and France?)

Henry had married Catherine of Aragon, his older brother's wife (pay attention to that bit, it's important), after his brother's death, so he had a pretty good start to the kingship business. His father had left the treasury full, he was already married, and England had enjoyed several years of peace, recuperating from the tumultuous War of Roses. And while Henry merrily waged war with France like every other English monarch before him, he is not known for his conquests, but what he did artistically and intellectually for England-- and, of course, having six wives.

Henry ushered in the English Renaissance. He entertained (and sometimes executed) Humanist thinkers at his court, such as Sir Thomas Moore, he patronized artists and musicians (Hans Hoblein anyone?), and generally turned the dull English backwater into a dazzling court.

Henry's biggest contribution, by far, is his zealous embracing of the Reformation, and his 'my way or the highway' methods of convincing all of England to deny Catholicism.

Don't think the English Reformation was really about religion though. It may have been for some, but for Henry the break with Rome had distinct financial, political, and personal advantages. It was a bit like dumping a bad boyfriend. By closing (and basically sacking, let's be real here) monasteries and other church orders Henry gained land, houses, and money. By denying the Pope's authority and proclaiming himself head of the English Church, Henry gained absolute control over the English people, and discarded the biggest check to his power. By denying the power of Rome, Henry could divorce his first wife, Catherine, and marry the captivating Anne Boleyn. And hopefully have a son. That was the real goal there.

The English Reformation, brutal though it was, was one of the great moments in history. I think it would be safe to say that had England remained a Catholic country, history would be completely different. The Elizabethan age would never have happened. England may have been taken over by the Spanish Armada. America may not have been settled by English explorers or religious refugees. The Bible may not have been widely printed in English. So much might be different. It's amazing really, how much the English Reformation has impacted modern life.

As a person, Henry was...difficult to get along with. He'd been raised expecting to get his own way, and was not used to hearing no. He had an over-exaggerated sense of his own grandeur, and he was mercurial to a fault. He was volatile, and quick to anger. Some historians suggest that this may have been caused by brain damage received during an accident in his youth. Of course, it could also be the power of an absolute monarch going to his head. Either way, displeasing him was a Bad Idea. Henry executed people who angered him (aren't you glad he isn't your boss?). He found it difficult to conceive sons, and he discarded the women who couldn't provide him with one, by whatever means necessary. He was a dangerous man to be married to, and you had to be clever to keep your head.

Part One   Part Two     Part Three    Part Four   Part Five   Part Six    Part Seven   Part Eight

Henry VIII: The Charismatic King who Reforged a Nation by Kathy Elgin

Also this article, which has almost no biographical information on Henry, but is very interesting.