Showing posts with label Reformation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reformation. Show all posts

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary, Governor of the Netherlands

Sometimes called 'Mary of Hungary', it's easy to lose this Mary among the sea of other famous Mary's hailing from Austria and Hungary, not to mention the rest of Europe. This particular Mary was a master stateswoman, and arguably one of the most important politicians of her time. A member of the powerful Habsburg dynasty, and a contemporary of Henry VIII, Mary saved part of Hungary for her family after an Ottoman invasion, and governed the Netherlands for decades, suppressing rebellions, attempting to make peace with France. Though she is largely unknown today, she was a key political figure during her lifetime.

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Mary is described alternately as being very
beautiful, and as looking very manish. It
is also known that she was an unfortunate
possessor of a Habsburg lip.
The daughter of Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad, Mary was born in Brussels in 1505. She had five siblings, four older, the most notable being her brothers Charles and Ferdinand, both of whom later became Holy Roman Emperors.

About six months after her birth, Mary was engaged to the yet unborn heir of King Ladisla of Hungary. Thankfully, the presumed heir did materialize in the form of her future husband, Louis, was later born in 1506. The two were officially 'married' when Mary was nine, but they lived separately until 1522.

Prior to cohabiting with her husband, Mary was given a humanist education along with her sisters, Isabella and Eleanor, and her twice over sister in law, Anne of Bohemia. Young Mary was passionate about music as well as sport. There also must have been some introduction to philosophy, because she later became enamored of the scholar Erasmus.

When Mary moved to Buda in 1522 she was immediately coronated Queen of Hungary. Louis' father had had his son crowned while he was still alive in order to secure the succession. Ladislaw died in 1516, and Louis had been inexpertly ruling since the year before. When Mary arrived on the scene, Louis soon delegated running the country to her, and instead spent his time hunting and partying.

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Mary's husband, Louis. Mary refused to
remarry after his death, refusing offers from
numerous heads of state, including James V
of Scotland, the father of Mary, Queen of
Scots
Though Mary was only 15, she took to ruling like a fish to water. Renaissance Hungary was a mess, nobles fought each other and the crown incessantly, and the country was only ever a few steps away from anarchical collapse. Mary brokered peace between different noble families, and tried to inspire loyalty to her husband the King.

Unfortunately, Mary's efforts were too little, too late. When Suleiman I invaded in 1526 the nobility were unable to unify under the common cause of not being conquered by the Ottomans. Louis died in combat, leaving Mary a widow.

The couple were reportedly in love, but they had no children. This isn't entirely unexpected, the pair were 15 and 14 upon marriage, and they were only married for five years. However, this lack of an heir would make things difficult in Hungary after Louis' death. Though the Ottomans had taken Hungary, they hadn't gotten all of Hungary. Hungary was split into three--a third to the Ottomans, a third to the pretender John Zapolya, and a third went to Mary's brother Ferdinand.

Mary wrote to Ferdinand telling him about her sudden widowhood, and his sudden possession of a new country. He asked her to remain on as regent, a position that she only reluctantly accepted, protesting that the job should go to someone older and more experienced. Mary served as regent for more than a year until Ferdinand was coronated in 1527.

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Though borders were constantly changing, Europe looked
something like this during Mary's lifetime.
It is worth noting Mary's protests that she was unsuitable for the role of regent because of her age and inexperience. This is a pattern that would occur throughout her life when dealing with her male relatives. As governor of the Netherlands, she would frequently ask permission to resign, citing her inability to fully do her duty due to her gender, age, or lack of abilities. On the surface, it merely seems that Mary maybe struggled with self esteem, and the amount of reassuring letters her brother wrote to her certainly support this theory. However, it is also worth noting that in this first case, as well as most other cases of attempted resignation, Mary's attempt to resign came on the tail of her brothers denying her the basic things she needed to rule. It seems more likely that her shy projection of self doubt was merely her way of manipulating men who wanted results, but weren't willing to give her the necessary ingredients for success.

After leaving Hungary, Mary floated aimlessly until being appointed governor of the Netherlands after the death of Margaret of Austria in 1531. At the time, the Netherlands were a part of the vast and growing Habsburg Empire, ruled by Mary's brother, Charles V. The Netherlands was a notoriously tricky region, populated by a testy and nepotistic nobility, a wealthy and discontented bourgeois, and outer provinces that most definitely did not want to be under Habsburg rule. Add in the ever growing threat of Reformation, and the Netherlands was a hot seat of discontent.

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Not all of Mary's patronages were political
in nature. She was a great lover of music, and
retained talented musicians and composers at
her court.
The Reformation was a particular problem for Mary, because she frequently flirted with Lutheranism, much to the disapproval of her staunchly Catholic brothers. While Queen of Hungary, Mary had employed several reformist preachers, and read books by Martin Luther. It seemed likely that she may have had evangelical leanings herself, but when she took up as governor she became, at least publicly, staunchly Catholic.

She was, however, very tolerant of the protestants in the Netherlands. Charles frequently had to remind her to enforce anti-protestant laws, and the Netherlands was known as a place where protestant missionaries could preach without a huge amount of risk.

It was here in the Netherlands that Mary's master diplomatic and political acumen really shone. The role of governor was chronically underfunded in the Netherlands, and had only a limited number of patronages assigned to it. To control the area Mary needed both money and patronages¹, both of which were controlled by her brother Charles, who was so disinterested in the region, that he left the answering of her letters up to his secretary. Through a combination of persistent pestering and attempted resignations, Mary was able to not only get Charles to answer her letters, but also get him to allow her discretion over the dispensal of every third patronage.

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Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He was Mary's
older brother and nagging boss.
Though she won the patronage issue, Mary still struggled against Charles and his neglect of the region. An inability to balance the state budget and increased tensions with France caused a rebellion to break out in 1537. Mary kept her head, and was eventually able to suppress the rebellion, but not without great difficulty.

War was particularly difficult for Mary because her generals refused to listen to or communicate with her. Mary encountered a great deal of misogyny in her capacity as governor and regent, which made her job infinitely more difficult than it would have been for a man. Officials refused to listen to her, and nobles consistently disobeyed her orders. This, along with a great dislike of her nephew Philip (who had just replaced his father), and protest of her age, led to her retirement in 1555

After she left the Netherlands, Mary went to Castille, her mother's homeland. She accompanied her sister Eleanor, intending to spend the rest of her days happy and away from politics. Unfortunately, Eleanor died in 1558, setting Mary adrift. Charles once again offered her governorship of the
Netherlands, and Mary was even persuaded to accept it, but stress over her brother Charles' death caused her to have a sudden heart attack in October of 1558. She died a few weeks later.

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Mary in her older years
Despite her great importance in the politics of the era, Mary has been largely forgotten in favor of her brothers and nephew. This is a major disservice to any lover of history, because Mary was just as wily and clever a politician as her aunt, Margaret of Austria, and she more than outshone her brothers at times. While she may not have had a huge, lasting impact, Mary of Austria more than deserves a place at the table with the great Renaissance stateswomen of her era.



¹A patronage is a job given to members of the nobility to reward good behavior and compel further favor from the monarch or reigning noble. These patronages brought wealth and title, all of which enabled a ruler to bind the nobility to them.


Sources
'En bruit d'estre bonne luteriene': Mary of Hungary (1505-58) and Religious Reform by B. J. Spruyt
The Sinews of Habsburg Governance in the Sixteenth Century: Mary of Hungary and Political Patronage by Daniel R. Doyle
Mary of Hungary-Historical Dictionary of Brussels
Mary of Hungary-Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands
Mary of Austria: "The Heart to do Anything"
Louis II of Hungary

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Damn, Girl-Jeanne II of Navarre

Jeanne (sometimes anglicized to Joan) II d' Albret of Navarre was basically a smaller scale, likable, Henry VIII . These two are very similar in that they both brought the Reformation to their country, they were both married more than once, and they both liked making life difficult for the French. The pair were even related by marriage for some eight years. However, unlike Henry, Jeanne wasn't a dick who murdered her friends, spouses, and national economy. Jeanne was a brave and altruistic defender of her faith.

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A young Jeanne d'Albret
Jeanne was Queen of Navarre, and if you don't know what the hell a Navarre is, don't worry, I didn't know either until I looked it up. I'd assumed it was a region of northern France, much like Brittany, but it turns out Navarre was like a big Andorra. However, unlike Andorra , Navarre was a warring political entity that wasn't content to remain in their valley and go about their business. Navarre was an important part of medieval politics, and it did not take its assimilation into France and Spain quietly.

The only child of an unhappy union, Jeanne was raised away from her parents, and given a somewhat lackluster humanist education. Girls, even royal girls, weren't thought worthy of writing about very much during the Renaissance, so not much is known about Jeanne's early childhood, other than that she was raised by a family friend--Aymee de Lafayette-- and educated by Nicolas Bourbon.*

It isn't until 1540 that Jeanne really shows up in historical record. Like many royal girls of the era, Jeanne's real worth to her family was her marriageability and usefulness as a political pawn. At the ripe old age of 11, Francis I, King of France and Jeanne's uncle, decided that Jeanne should get married to the much older William de la Marck, Duke of Cleves (Anne of Cleves' brother.) 

Related image
Map of Navarre (and other places)
Now, neither Jeanne nor her parents were too thrilled about this match. Her parents were peeved that the King of France had overridden their wishes that Jeanne marry Phillip of Spain, and Jeanne just plain didn't want to marry the man. Jeanne resisted the match and defied the french king, but it was to no avail. in 1547 she was married to William, kicking and screaming. Her dress was so heavy that she could not walk down the aisle, and instead had to be carried. Luckily for Jeanne, after a symbolic consummation of their union she returned to France to live with her family until she reached maturity.

In 1545, after eight years of marriage, Jeanne's marriage to William was annulled. The official reason was that Jeanne hadn't consented willingly to the marriage, and had been forced, but the real reason for the annulment was that an alliance with Cleves was no longer important to Francis. This was fantastic for Jeanne, because in 1548 Jeanne was able to marry Antony de Bourbon**, a man she loved, or at the very least liked. 

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Antony de Bourbon
When Jeanne's father died in 1555 she became the official Queen Regnant of Navarre, though her husband Antony was king in all but name. Despite the initial attraction, the marriage between Jeanne and Antony seemed to have been a rocky one. While they did have three children together, Antony was notoriously unreliable, and could be physically abusive when he didn't get his way.

The next historically important event of Jeanne's life happened in 1560 (or 1562) when she publicly declared herself a Calvinist. She had attended a Calvinist meeting in Paris during the wedding of Mary Stuart and Francis II, and it changed her life. She described the experience in her memoirs as being 'rescued from idolatry' and 'received in His [God's] church'. Jeanne converted, and she convinced her husband as well, because in 1862, Antony also declared himself a Calvinist.

Being a Protestant Monarch during the Reformation was a tricky affair, and Navarre had the bad luck to be sandwiched between two large Catholic powers--Spain and France. The English could get away with doing as they damn well pleased, thanks to their distance from the rest of Europe, and the German states had each other to rely on for defense, but things were tricky for Navarre. It's no surprise then that shortly after his declaration Antony recanted, and proceeded to lead Catholic forces against the Huguenots.

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La Rochelle
Jeanne was devastated by Antony's defection. In her memoirs she described herself as having 'a thorn put not in [her] foot, but in [her] heart'. She herself, however, never recanted her beliefs, even when Antony threatened her with violence, and France and Spain threatened her with invasion. Jeanne was a stubborn woman, and when Antony died later that year, she set about turning Navarre into a Protestant nation.

On the Reformation scale, Jeanne swung more towards the Puritan end of the scale, and her political reformations proved it. She made laws against gambling, prostitution, blasphemy, and drunkenness, as well as the more tradition laws abolishing Catholic ceremonies, and seizing Church property.*** Her next step was to send funds and military assistance to the embattled Huguenots at La Rochelle.

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Jeanne in her older years.
Not only did Jeanne send assistance, she went to La Rochelle herself and organized the women there. She assisted in defense strategies and peace negotiations with the French soldiers. It can be said, almost without doubt, that it was her fighting, and her beliefs that led her Calvinist raised son--Henry IV--to issue the Edict of Nantes, which granted Huguenots substantial rights in France, as well as ending the fighting between the two groups.

With much protestation, Jeanne reluctantly agreed to a marriage between her only son, Henry, and the catholic Margaret of France, sister to the French King. It was shortly after her arrival in Paris to attend the wedding that Jeanne died suddenly of tuberculosis, leaving Henry King of Navarre. 


*Incidentally, Nicolas Bourbon was also responsible for parts of Anne Boleyn's humanist education. 
**Another important fact about Antony de Bourbon, he was in line for the French throne. This enabled his and Jeanne's son Henry to become king of both France and Navarre, uniting the two nations in much the same way James VI/I united England and Scotland
***Unlike Henry VIII, when Jeanne seized the property of the Catholic Church, she didn't use it to enrich herself and her friends. She gave the funds to Calvinist ministry's and to schools. Additionally, when the staunch Catholics of her kingdom rose in rebellion, she suppressed them with force, and then used legal pressures to make them back down. She liberally pardoned rebels, and did not execute vast numbers of rebels like Henry did.

Sources
Jeanne d'Albret--Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia--6th Edition


Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-In Summation

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It was going to be all one post, but then it turned out to be...not so brief. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about these ladies.

I'm not very good at conclusions, I never have been. I can't tell you how many rough drafts of papers I turned in that ended with: 'In conclusion, yes.' But since this isn't a first draft of a college paper, I will attempt to be more cohesive and coherent about this.

This conclusion is extra hard to write, because how do you close the book on such an extraordinary group of women? I've only scratched the surface here, there's so much more that could be said. I don't know exactly what it was, but something about being married to an unstable, tyrannical, king turned six seemingly ordinary girls into strong, admirable women, who will be spoken about forever.

Catherine of Aragon might still have been famous without Henry, she was the daughter of the brilliant Queen Isabella of Castille and Leon after all, but the story of her bravery and stallwartness in the face of Henry's persecution sets her apart from not only Henry's other wives, but from all Queens in history. She was brilliant, pious, and loving, and certainly deserved better than she got. She was a metaphorical saint to the point that there's a movement to canonize her so she can be a literal saint.

Anne Boleyn's ambition and drive spurred the English Reformation, and put England on a path that would change the face of history forever. She held the attentions of a capricious King for nearly a decade, and managed to enact enormous social change during that time, something none of Henry's other Queens did. She's controversial, sure, but you can't deny that without her not only would England not have her most illustrious monarch--Elizabeth I--but England may have forever remained a Catholic nation. She used her beauty and intelligence to shape history, not bad for a daughter of the minor nobility.

Jane Seymour was known for being gentle and kind, and as being the Queen that Henry loved the most. She gave birth to Henry's only son--Edward--and managed to bring a sense of peace and prosperity to the English court. Jane made a home, and brought calm. You could say that she cleaned up Anne Boleyn's mess. She isn't known for having any great political power, or bringing about any great change, but you can't deny that she had an enormous emotional impact on Henry and the people around her.

Anne of Cleves and Henry may have been married less than a year, but she was the smartest out of all Henry's wives. She knew when to yield, and doing so bought her a life of wealth and independence, as well as the dubious honor of being close to the King. She lived a happy life, and died peacefully. Not something that any of Henry's other wives can say they did.

Catherine Howard was young and naive. She was thrust by uncaring relatives into a world that was much too complex for her, and she was crushed underneath the weight of it all. She was an unexceptional Queen of England, but her story is by far the saddest.

Catherine Parr managed to have Mary and Elizabeth restored to the line of succession, ending a civil war years before it began. It's thanks to her that England was able to enjoy the political stability of the Elizabethan era. She was clever and pious, and managed to weather the storm of Henry's dissatisfaction. She was married almost as many times as Henry himself, but never quiet managed to find happiness. She was the first of England's queens to publish under her own name, and served as role model to both Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey.

Henry VIII married six different women. While he definitely had a type--smart, pretty, musically talented--the women he married definitely were not carbon copies of each other. Each of these women had a distinct personality, and each of them had a distinct impact on Henry. While not all of them made large political marks, all of them influenced the monarchs of the Tudor era.

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

What are your thoughts on Henry and his wives? Who, in your opinion, is the most interesting? Make my day and leave a comment below. :)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-Catherine Parr-Survived

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It was going to be all one post, but then it turned out to be...not so brief. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about these ladies.

It is very likely that Henry's final queen was named after his first. Catherine Parr's mother, Maud, was a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, and the then queen was named godmother to Maud's baby.

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Catherine Parr
Royal associations aside, Catherine was destined to live the first part of her life in obscurity. She was married a grand total of four times, with Henry as her third, and most prestigious, husband. We'll focus on her other marriages in the series 'The Four Husbands of Catherine Parr', but for now we're going to focus on her relationship with the ageing and ailing Henry VIII.

The year was 1543. Henry had just ended his disastrous fifth marriage, and Catherine's second husband, Lord Latimer had just died, leaving her widowed for the second time, this time with two young stepchildren. Being the resourceful woman she was, Catherine decided to call upon the Princess Mary, and use her connections with the late Catherine of Aragon to secure a place in Mary's household. It was there that she caught the eye of both the King and Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Jane Seymour.

Catherine was in her early thirties, which was a bit like the Renaissance equivalent of today's mid forties, but she was still quite the catch. She was very intelligent, speaking four languages (in addition to English), and by the time of her marriage to Henry had already published one religious book anonymously, and was on her way to publishing a second. She was also, as all of Henry's wives were, reportedly quite beautiful. Smart and beautiful, two of the top things that Henry looked for in a woman, is it really any surprise that he proposed?
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A surviving copy of
Catherine's book Lamentations of a
Sinner

The couple were married in July of 1543, and Thomas Seymour, Henry's rival, was discreetly sent on a diplomatic mission to the continent. Henry had already had enough brushes with adultery.

Henry and Catherine were only married for about two and a half years, but during that time Catherine managed to accomplish some pretty big things, like:
  • Finishing the work of Jane Seymour, and restoring Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession.
  • Publish another book
  • Act as Queen Regent, one of only two of Henry's queens to do so, while Henry fought another fruitless war with France. That entailed:
    • Raising troops and money
    • Managing the situation with Scotland. As history shows, managing the Scots is never easy.
    • Signing at least five royal proclamations 
  • Personally overseeing the education of the young Elizabeth
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The original of this portrait hangs in Sudeley
Castle, where Catherine died and is buried.
Most importantly, she managed to bring the Tudor clan into a sort of semblance of a family, building trust and goodwill that would come in very useful to Edward and Mary at the beginnings of their reigns. 
If you've ever taken a history class, you've most likely heard the rhyme, "Divorced, beheaded and died; divorced, beheaded, survived.". Well, Catherine 3.0 survived. She outlived Henry by an entire year. (Anne of Cleves survived by more than that, but Henry divorced her, so she doesn't really count?), and this, in itself, is a miracle, because like so many of Henry's wives, at one point Henry grew tired of her, and tried to have her arrested.

You see, Catherine was not only a very intelligent woman, but a woman extremely interested in religion as well. The three books she published were all religious in subject. She was a staunch devotee of the Church of English, but the Church of England straddled a fine line between Catholic and Protestant, and her views tended to swing too far Protestant for the tastes of both Henry and the Catholic faction at court. The fact that she liked to argue religion with Henry didn't help her either. It didn't take much coaxing from Henry's Catholic counselors to convince him to have Catherine arrested on the grounds of being a Protestant sympathizer. After all, rumors were flying that Henry had his eye on a new wife...

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Catherine Parr's tomb at Sudeley castle.
Lucky for both Catherine and anyone else who has ever undertaken the task of documenting Henry's marital exploits, Catherine got wind of the warrant for her arrest before it was put into action. She immediately humbled herself before the king, and in the biggest move of catering to fragile masculinity in the history of womankind, she managed to convince Henry that she was merely arguing with him to distract him from his pain, and so that she could be instructed by his wisdom. This thinly veiled bullshit put Henry at ease, and spared Catherine's life.


It wasn't long after that that Henry died. He left Catherine the title of Queen Dowager, and 7,000 pounds a year. But most importantly, he left Catherine free to marry once again, this time to a man she loved.

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

What do you think of Henry's final queen? How close of a relationship do you think she and Henry had? Do you think she was happy with marrying the king? Make my day, and leave a comment below. :)


Sources

englishhistory.net
tudorhistory.org

Thursday, April 6, 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.

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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

Sources
Biography.Com
The Anne Boleyn Files

Thursday, March 30, 2017

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


Image result for anne boleynAnne 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. ;)

Anne 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

Further Reading:
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



Thursday, March 16, 2017

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

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It updates every Thursday.

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.

What do you think of Henry?

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

Sources
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.