Anne Boleyn (With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm)

DESCRIPTION: "In the town of London, large as life, The ghost of Anne Boleyn walks, I declare. Anne Boleyn was once King Henry's wife, Until he had the headman bob her hair." Now she walks "with her head tucked underneath her arm" and bothers Henry as best she can.
AUTHOR: R. L. Weston and Bert Lee
EARLIEST DATE: 1934 (according to Wikipedia)
KEYWORDS: humorous royalty death execution food
HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
c. 1501 - birth of Anne Boleyn, daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn/Bullen
1509 - Henry Tudor, son of Henry VII, ascends the English throne as Henry VIII
1526 - Approximate time Henry Henry notices Anne Boleyn
May 1533 - After appeals to the Pope fail, Thomas Cranmer grants Henry a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon
Sep 1533 - Anne bears the Princess Elizabeth, her only healthy child (Anne, like Catherine of Aragon before her, will thereafter start suffering stillbirths. But it wasn't Henry VIII's fault, no sirree, he was Henry VIII, it couldn't be his fault....)
May 19, 1537 - execution of Anne Boleyn for "adultery" (i.e. not being able to overcome Henry VIII's genetic defects and/or his syphilis)
1547 - Death of Henry VIII
1558 - After the deaths of Henry's other children, Edward VI and Mary I, without issue, Elizabeth daughter of Anne Boleyn become queen of England
1603 - death of Elizabeth I
FOUND IN:
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Cray-AshGrove, p. 32-33, "Ann Boleyn" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, ANNEBOL

NOTES [15644 words]: This is probably not a folk song. It is certainly composed; it appears that the authors' original title was "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm." I know of no traditional versions. But there are many recording by revival performers -- and the song has developed a surprisingly large number of variations, considering that there is a "canonical" recording by Stanley Holloway. On that basis, I include it. This even though there isn't much truth in it. Except that Henry VIII executed Anne Boleyn, of course.
Henry VIII was not born to be king. He was the second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (Ashley-Kings, p. 630). His older brother Arthur had been destined to be Henry VII's heir.
There is a report that Henry was at first intended for the church -- possibly destined to be Archbishop of Canterbury (Scarisbrick, p. 4, quoting Lord Herbert of Cherbury). Scarisbrick observes that this report is uncorroborated -- and in fact thinks it quite unlikely. He observes that Henry began to receive secular offices and titles as early as age two -- not the usual course for someone intended for the Church.
To be sure, it's easy to imagine Henry VII wanting one son to be King of England and another to be Archbishop; he would love the idea of both state and church being in Tudor hands. But it seems most unlikely that he ever considered risking one of his sons joining the celibate clergy when he had only two. It must be remembered that Henry VII was an usurper, and there were *no* Tudor heirs other than his children (see any genealogy of the period. The one on p. 528 of Scarisbrick makes it exceptionally clear: Henry VII was not really a member of the British royal family). Henry VII had no brothers or sisters; he had one uncle (Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke), but Jasper had not even the minuscule drop of Plantagenet blood that Henry VII had from his mother -- and, besides, Jasper had no children, and died in 1495. What is more, much of Henry's support came from followers of his wife, Elizabeth of York. (For more on this, see the notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]). Even if there had been a Tudor successor not descended from Elizabeth, that heir would have forfeited the respect given to the children of Elizabeth. If Henry VII left no heirs, there was no obvious candidate to succeed him. He needed children -- preferably sons. It is a subject to which we shall return.
Crown Prince Arthur was married at a young age to Catherine, princess of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille -- a political match, naturally, which took place when he was fifteen (OxfordCompanion, p. 54) and she a year older, or perhaps slightly less. The primary goal of the marriage was to cement an alliance with the newly-united nation of Spain.
There may have been another reason for the match, according to Mattingly, p. 25: The marriage would strengthen the Tudor dynasty. As Mattingly says, "Probably Henry admitted to himself that there was too much doubtful blood in his dynasty. The grandson of Owen Tudor, clerk of the Queen's wardrobe and heir to no more than a rocky mountainside and a few goats, could never have come to the English throne had not the Wars of the Roses almost extinguished the Plantagenet stock. Henry's own mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, gave the King his only drop of royal blood, and though she had descended from John of Gaunt, like the Princess Catherine herself, Margaret Beaufort's grandfather had the misfortune to be born on the wrong side of the blanket. Like so many of the Italian tyrants, whom they resembled in other ways, the Tudors sprang from bastard stock; and Henry VII knew that, though he had married the daughter of Edward IV to help set things right for his children, his own best claim to the throne was that he had won it by the sword and held it against all comers."
To make this specific, Lofts, p. 53, counts "at least five men" whose claims to the throne were better than Henry VII's. I calculate nine men and women senior to Henry Tudor at the time Henry started seriously trying to gain the throne. And that's even if you ignore the Beaufort illegitimacy.
Thus it could be argued that Catherine of Aragon had a better claim to the English throne than Henry VII, and in some ways better than Henry VIII. Edward III had had five sons. The line of the eldest, the Black Prince, had died out. The line of the second, Lionel of Clarence, had given rise to the Yorkist dynasty that was overthrown by Henry VII, and most of them had been declared illegitimate in one way or another (probably falsely, but so what?). The third son, John of Gaunt, had married three times. His first marriage had produced the Lancastrian dynasty of Henry IV, extinct after 1471. Henry VII was descended from the third wife, but his great-great-grandfather was born before Gaunt had married his third wife Katherine Swynford, the mother of the Beauforts. By has second wife, John had left a daughter, Katherine of Lancaster, whose granddaughter was Isabella of Castile. Catherine of Aragon was daughter of Isabella, and thus the great-great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt by his second wife. Mattingly, p. 6, says that Catherine, or Catalina as she was known in Spain, was actually named for Katherine of Lancaster. If the Yorkist line is excluded from the succession, then, Isabella of Castile, whose ancestry was entirely legitimate, had a claim to seniority over the bastard Beaufort/Tudor line. Henry VII had cemented his own claim to the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York, the senior Yorkist princess. Could he have been trying to marry Arthur and Henry VIII to a senior Lancastrian princess?
Even if that wasn't in his thoughts, to marry his son into one of Europe's old royal families could only strengthen both Henry Tudor's throne and his diplomatic position.
But Henry VII came from a long line of genetic defectives, going back to the mad King Charles VI of France. Henry VII, unlike many of his descendants, was fairly fertile -- Elizabeth of York suffered through eight pregnancies (Seward, p. 327), dying as a result of the last one in 1503 at the age of 37. But four of the children died before their fifth birthday; only four (Arthur, Henry, Margaret, and Mary) reached adolescence (see chart on p. 626 of Ashley-Kings).
And even Arthur was perhaps not overly healthy; he probably was born prematurely (Williamson, p. 20, says that he was born eight months after his parents married, and it is not likely that Elizabeth and Henry VII were sleeping together before they wed; the straitlaced Henry VII seems to have had no illegitimate children -- Ashley-Kings, p. 624 -- and even though he was only 46 when his wife died, he never remarried). Arthur was very small and slight -- according to Mattingly, p. 39, Henry at age ten was already bigger than his five-years-older brother.
Arthur died in 1501 (Seward, p. 327) or 1502 (Ashley-Kings, p. 626; Delderfield, p. 64; OxfordCompanion, p. 54). According to Mattingly, p. 48, "We shall never know just how Arthur died. Of a 'consumption,' it was said later, but a 'consumption' in the sixteenth century meant little more than that the patient had wasted away." He mentions the sweating sickness, of which there seems to have been an epidemic at the time (it had been rife when Henry VII won the throne). Apparently Catherine also came down with some sort of disease -- but she was healthy, and survived (although apparently she was ill for weeks; Mattingly, p. 49). Arthur had died April 2.
During this period, Catherine's importance had gone up and down like a yo-yo. When negotiations began over the marriage, Catherine was simply a link to Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Kings of Spain. There was little thought that she might succeed to the throne of Spain. Then the children of the Catholic Kings started dying; Mattingly, pp. 17-19. First their son died. Then their eldest daughter Isabella died in childbirth in 1498. The child of Isabella the younger died in 1500. That made the heiress of Spain daughter #2, Juana "the Mad," Catherine's older sister, whose eldest son was the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. As this was happening, the value of Catherine as a marriage prospect had steadily increased, since she was now fourth in line to inherit Spain.
Then Isabella of Castille herself died in 1504, threatening the union of Castile and Aragon (Russell, p. 70). Ferdinand of Aragon was still king of his own country, but Castile was in the hands of Philip of Habsburg, the husband of Juana "the Mad" (Mattingly, p. 67, who observes on p. 83 that Philip had his own plans for Castile which didn't match Ferdinand's). Ferdinand had to be very cautious in his management of his nation, resulting in many problems with England. This lowered Catherine's value.
Then Philip of Habsburg, who as husband of Juana "the Mad" ruled Castile in her name even though he largely ignored her and her passion for him (Mattingly, pp. 84-85), died in 1506. (Some naturally suspected poison, presumably supplied by Ferdinand; Mattingly, p. 86.)
Juana was not yet thirty (born 1479, and she lived until 1555), but in her mania, there was no possibility of her allowing another man into her bed at that time -- meaning that, as long as she was left on her own, she would have no more children. (Many think that Juana wasn't as crazy as Philip, and indeed Ferdinand, said at the time -- Henry VII openly questioned it, in fact; Mattingly, p. 101. Many moderns have sympathy for a Queen who attacked her husband's mistress and who was beaten by her husband -- Mattingly, p. 84 -- even though his power came from being married to her. She was shoved aside -- indeed, locked up for the rest of her life -- largely because she was female and no one wanted a female monarch. But she really does seem to have had an absolute fixation on her husband; she insisted, e.g., on staying by his coffin even long after his death; Mattingly, p. 87.) So Catherine started to increase in value again (and Ferdinand resumed running Castile, holding control for the rest of his life).
It is perhaps worth noting that Catherine of Aragon showed some of the same clingy behaviors as her sister Juana (Mattingly, p. 158), although not to the same degree. Lofts, p. 51, says that Catherine loved Henry all her life, and argues that this shows Henry was not as vile as he comes off. This doesn't really follow, given the way Juana felt about her equally vile husband; maybe Catherine just shared the same sort of obsessive love. The key difference is that Catherine clearly kept her wits about her all her life, as she would show in the contest with Henry over the divorce, where she outmaneuvered him at almost every turn.
It's not clear how Catherine felt about marrying another Englishman after Arthur died; no direct record of her feelings survives, but Mattingly, p. 53, records that a later chronicler declared that she asked to go home.
Even with Arthur dead and Isabella of Castille in her grave, Henry VII wanted alliances. He dangled English support all over Europe. He did continue to pursue the Spanish alliance; it was the best counterweight available to the power of France (Halliday, p. 84). His first idea was to marry Catherine to his second son Henry (the future Henry VIII), or perhaps, since his wife Elizabeth of York had died in 1503, to marry Catherine himself (Williamson, p. 60; Mattingly, p. 59. The problem with this, of course, is that any children of Catherine and Henry VII would have lacked any legitimate Plantagenet blood -- which may be why Henry gave up the idea). But the death of Philip of Habsburg changed everything. It set Henry to making a bid for the hand ot Juana "the Mad," which went nowhere (Mattingly, pp. 93-95).
While Henry VII was dancing these diplomatic dances, he kept Catherine in dire poverty (Mattingly, p. 98; on p. 62, Mattingly notes that under the revised treaty after Arthur's death, the Spanish swore off any responsibility for Catherine, and she turned her plate and such over to Henry, leaving her entirely dependent on Henry VII's charity -- of which he had none, since that would involve spending money, and money and power were the only things Henry actually cared about). Princesses are often pawns, but Catherine was treated even more callously than most. Catherine apparently thought that the death of her mother Isabella was the source of most of her troubles (Mattingly, p. 66, who thinks she was right).
Nonetheless, Henry VII would not let Catherine go home. If the king himself could not marry Juana, there was still the fallback plan of having his surviving son, the future Henry VIII, marry Catherine (Halliday, p. 85). Henry the younger, however, was still a boy, leaving plenty of time to dicker over terms. Bainton, p. 187, points out another problem: the arguments between Henry VII and Ferdinand over the unpaid portion of Catherine's dowry -- even when Arthur and Catherine's marriage took place, Henry VII had been sitting there counting the dowry (Mattingly, p. 43. That was Henry Tudor's way, but it would set a very difficult precedent for poor Catherine). Henry in effect was trying to get a bigger dowry from the Spanish to maintain one alliance (Mattingly, pp. 98-99) -- a very Henry-esque approach. At one point Henry junior too seemed to swear off on the marriage (Scarisbrick, pp. 8-9), though this may have been a set piece staged by his father to improve the English negotiating position (so Mattingly, p. 68).
These was the sort of situation that was bread and butter for a sneaky monarch like Henry VII (who was utterly unlike his son in this regard). Henry VII spun out negotiations over Catherine's remarriage until he was on his deathbed (Williamson, p. 60) . Scarisbrick (pp. 10-11) thinks the situation had gotten so complicated by that Henry VII was preparing to break off Henry VIII's Spanish engagement. The situation was very strange at this time: Ferdinand, rather than do anything to support her, had made Catherine his ambassador to England (Mattingly, p. 92), which put her in the peculiar situation of trying to negotiate her own marriage and deal with Henry VII's idea of marrying her older sister Juana now that she was a widow (Mattingly, p. 93). Fortunately Ferdinand sent another ambassador not long after -- but he was hardly able to deal with the increasingly sick Henry VII (Mattingly, p. 105, comments that "His foreign policy was becoming the sport of his rheumatism and his nerves").
Catherine was perhaps lucky Henry VII died when he did, given how disastrously the Spanish ambassador Fuensalida was offending the English (Mattingly spends much of a chapter on this; see e.g. pp. 107-109). Henry VIII, who of course needed to assert his position in European affairs, moved to marry her almost the moment he came to the throne (the ceremony took place six weeks later; Russell, p. 70). He even gave up all the fussing about the dowry (Mattingly, p. 120). Maybe it was because, by then, Catherine's importance had gone back up again; with little but the children of Juana "the Mad" standing between Catherine and the throne of Spain, there was at least a chance that her husband would succeed to the crown of Aragon and Castile. Or maybe he just wanted a wife and child to help cash in on the rejoicing -- according to Prescott, p. 25, "It was April 1509 when the young prince succeeded his father as Henry VIII, and his accession was, for England, like the coming of Spring. To complete the joy, it only needed that Katherine should bear a son."
Whatever the reason, Henry and Catherine were married almost immediately after the burial of Henry VII (Mattingly, p. 125).
There were complications, to be sure. Church law generally would not permit a woman to marry her husband's younger brother, especially if the marriage had been consummated. Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was one who has opposed the marriage (Scarisbrick, p. 42, though on p. 13 he says that Warham's objection may have been simply due to the long delay between the dispensation and the actual marriage.) Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, whose claim to the throne was better than her son's and whose advice he respected, was also against it (Mattingly, p. 115).
Whatever happened in the marriage, the Pope in 1503 had been convinced to grant a dispensation (Williamson, p. 76), and the marriage went ahead without worrying too much about the legal situation. But the issue of whether the marriage was valid would come back to haunt all involved. It appears that the language of the dispensation was technically slightly flawed (Scarisbrick, pp. 192-193) -- although Lofts, p. 49, says that Henry VII was satisfied with its form, and if Henry VII, Europe's sneakiest monarch, thought it valid, it surely must have been pretty sound. A rational person would say a dispensation is a dispensation, and accept it unless it was issued in bad faith. But canon law is not based on common sense.
Henry VIII probably wanted the marriage even more than his father, because he would soon go to war with France -- Williamson, p. 78. Henry VII had been far too prudent to engage in such a hopeless scheme (the English, not having fought a foreign war since the 1450s, had not kept up with modern military advances in areas such as artillery; an army like the one which had won Agincourt could not hope to win a sixteenth century battle, and Mattingly, p. 138, thinks the English forces in 1509 were not even as efficient as those at Agincourt) . Henry VIII wanted to reconquer Aquitaine, lost sixty years before, and eventually even wrangled a promise from the Pope to crown him King of France -- if he could conquer it (Scarisbrick, pp. 34-35; the Pope made the promise because the French monarchy at this time was considered schismatic). Henry sent an army to the French/Spanish border -- supposedly to cooperate with Ferdinand.
Henry's war worked entirely to the advantage of Spain, which used the English distraction of the French to conquer Spanish Navarre (Williamson, p. 80; Scarisbrook, pp. 29-30; Mattingly, p. 150, notes that the English expedition was such a fiasco that the men mutinied). Mattingly thinks it was only Catherine's influence which kept Henry from turning against Ferdinand (Mattingly, p. 154) -- unfortunately for England, since Ferdinand really was taking advantage of the English. The next phase of the war, resulting in the so-called "Battle of the Spurs" (actually nothing more than the pursuit of a surprised inferior force) also did Henry little good but was helpful to the Emperor Maximilian; Williamson, p. 82; Scarisbrick, pp. 35-36. If there was any benefit to England from that 1513 invasion, it was that it took Henry out of the country, so that a far better soldier, the Earl of Surrey, could command at the Battle of Flodden -- and hence win an overwhelming victory. (Surrey apparently had been very upset at being denied the chance to go to France, according to Mattingly, p. 155. But it turned out well for him. His family had been deprived of the Norfolk dukedom after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485; after Flodden, Henry gave it back. The Howard family still holds it.) But, of course, the Scots probably would not have invaded had not Henry gone to France.
Scarisbrick, p. 38, writes, "In philandering in Lille and gaining Tournai, Henry perhaps lost Scotland. Catherine [who had helped arrange for the victory at Flodden] wrote to Henry fulsome praise for the victory of the Spurs, but the praise was due elsewhere. Henry sent her his leading French prisoners, a duke included; but Catherine could send him the blood-stained coat of a king whose unburied body now lay in the Carthusian house at Sheen." (For more on Flodden, see the notes to "Flodden Field" [Child 168], plus of course the famous lament "The Flowers o' the Forest.")
Much of the success of these enterprises must be attributed to Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, Cardinal, Papal Legate, and Chancellor of England; he was among the most powerful churchmen in English history (Williamson, p. 86, who notes that the ironic effect of Wolsey's overwhelming power was to bring the English church firmly under his control -- making it easier for Henry to dominate it when he took charge). A large part of what follows can be attributed to the complicated relationship between the two.
Wolsey seems to have considered himself a patriot, and he also called himself a reformer. Yet, on the whole, he had been obedient to Papal authority. (At least, this seems to be the general view, though Scarisbrick, pp. 47-50, notes some differences with the Pontiff, often at points where Henry VIII had a strong opinion. But Williamson, p. 107, observes how often Wolsey went along with Papal acts, e.g. Wolsey promised reforms, but undertook very few -- notably, he was guilty of pluralism; in addition to his Archbishopric, he came to hold the bishopric of Winchester, considered the richest in England. But he never even visited his city of York, according to Williamson, p. 108!) This complex set of attributes would be significant when Henry's marriage collapsed. As Ashley-GB, comments on p. 207, "It was clear that so greedy a pluralist was in no position to carry through the radical program that was necessary to sustain the authority of the existing Church if it were not to fall before the trumpets of Protestantism, already sounding in Germany." It was a time when parish priests were numerous but little-employed, minimally educated, often married and making their living by farming parish lands (Ashley-GB, p. 210). Monks and friars, although more likely to be celibate, were often no better educated and lived largely by begging (Ashley-GB, p. 212). Wolsey was a prince of a church consisting mostly of useless ragamuffins but which exacted a great deal from more gainfully employed ragamuffins.
Henry's home life was not nearly as glittering as his foreign campaigns. Scarisbrick, p. 147, observes that Henry had at first been "a gallant husband" and that he and Catherine were together frequently. But it did not last. Catherine's first pregnancy produced a stillborn daughter (Mattingly, p. 141). Her first boy, born in 1511, died within two months of birth (Mattingly, p. 142). Eventually, in 1516, she had a living daughter, Mary (Mattingly, p. 174). Then -- a string of miscarriages and infants who died soon after birth (in all, apart from multiple miscarriages, Catherine brought six pregnancies to term, with five ending in the death of the infant; Bainton, p. 186; Williamson, p. 91; Scarisbrick, p. 150, catalogs the dismal list. The last pregnancy apparently apparently ended in 1518 with a stillborn child). Mary wasn't even a particularly good marriage prospect -- she was not very attractive, perhaps of delicate health (Williamson, p. 111), and (as it turned out) stubborn, plus she was cursed with the Tudor sterility; she never so much as managed to become pregnant.
It's hard to know whether Mary's (lack of) looks is derived from her mother. Catherine's appearance presents a bit of a conundrum. A witness at her wedding to Henry said that few matched her for beauty (Mattingly, p. 126). Yet Prescott, p. 27, while praising her intelligence, calls her "plain in face, short and heavy in figure, a stout little woman as time passed." By 1520 a witness called her "old and deformed" (Mattingly, p. 175). It seems clear that, by then, she had lost her figure and her blonde hair had turned dark (this is fairly normal). We have, sadly, little way to test these assertions.
There are several portraits said to be of her. One, by the famous artist Mich(a)el Sittow and painted probably 1503, shows a woman with grey eyes, reddish-blond hair, rather delicate features, and healthy-looking skin. She looks quite attractive to me. But it is not in fact certain that the portrait is of Catherine. A second portrait, which seems to be universally accepted as her, shows a woman with much puffier features which is far less attractive, but the unknown artist was not very good, if the appearance of her hands is any indication. A third, by Hornebout, was painted about 1525, when Henry was tired of her; it shows her with dark, reddish-brown hair and a thick neck; it looks very unattractive to me but of course it was painted when Catherine was about forty and had been through many pregnancies. There are several other portraits which, based on their dates, can hardly have been taken from life; most are in any case engravings, and show more head covering than actual head.
Catherine's perhaps-premature aging might have mattered less had she been younger -- but Catherine was five or six years older than her husband; at the time of Henry's accession and their marriage, he was 18, she about 24. She was well-educated (Mattingly, p. 8) and intelligent, though English does not seem to have been one of her attainments at the time of her first marriage (Scarisbrick, p. 8; Mattingly, p. 37, says that Catherine and Arthur had exchanged their letters in Latin. This had the ironic effect that Catherine, when she met her father-in-law, could not talk to him, because Henry VII had too little Latin; Mattingly, p. 36. Catherine did eventually learn English, but spoke it with an accent all her life; Mattingly, p. 165). Scarisbrook, p. 13, says that at the time of their marriage she "was probably still beautiful, and certainly of a quality of mind and life which few queens have seriously rivalled" -- but their only real bond, apart from Henry's diplomatic desires, seems to have been Henry's need for an heir. (This is singularly unfortunate, in that she seems to have been far more civilized than he -- e.g. Scarisbrick, p. 67, tells of an incident where Henry wanted to execute a bunch of rioters, but Catherine, on bended knee, convinced him to have mercy.)
Henry, after a few years of marriage, became a serial philanderer. (As Mattingly notes on p. 146, "During the first nine years of her marriage Catherine ended one pregnancy only to begin another. Naturally, her intimate association with her husband was interrupted for long periods. Naturally, Henry turned to other pastimes....") His first known dalliance, with Elizabeth "Bessie" Blount (one of Catherine's ladies-in-waiting) seems to have begun in 1514 (Scarisbrick, p. 147; Mattingly, p. 162, connects it with Henry's return from the 1513 campaign against France). Bessie eventually was given a modest property and married someone else, and largely disappears from the pages of history -- but not until she had born Henry a son.
Although Bessie Blount gave Henry his first surviving son, she was not his most significant early dalliance. That surely was with a young woman named Mary Boleyn (or Bollen, or Bullen; Anne seemed to have used the spelling "Bullen," but hardly any moderns do so). The family had roots in the merchant middle class (Ives, p. 3), but had been rising; Mary's and Anne's grandfather William had been knighted. Their father, Thomas Boleyn, was a member of Henry's court. That may not sound like a high office, and fifty years earlier, it wouldn't have been. But the Tudors had so oppressed the English nobility that being part of the court was now the key to power (Ross, p. 155); a title of nobility was simply its reward. Thomas Boleyn was one of those who accompanied Henry to the Field of the Cloth of Gold (Lofts, p. 24), and was sufficiently well-off to own two castles (one of them, Hever, usually being listed as Anne's birthplace, though Lofts, p. 10, prefers Blicking Hall). The two sisters also had a brother, George, who was less famous.
Mary's mother was the sister of Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk and one-time Admiral of England (Williamson, p. 112). Ives, p. 4 examines the great-grandparents of Anne Boleyn and finds that they included a Lord Mayor of London (Geoffrey Boleyn, the family namesake), a duke, an earl, the granddaughter of an earl, two baron's daughters, an esquire, and the esquire's wife. And Thomas Boleyn, though not personally wealthy at the time he came to court, would eventually join the peerage also. And he was an important in the diplomatic service as a linguist and ambassador (Ives, pp. 10-11).
Henry probably did not sleep with Catherine after 1525 at the latest (Scarisbrick, p. 15), moved her from Greenwich to an exile in Hampton Court in 1528 while moving Anne Boleyn into chambers next to his own (Scarisbrick, p. 218), and reportedly never saw his first wife after 1531. Catherine died in 1536 (OxfordCompanion, p. 176), having spent 35 mostly miserable years in England suffering from the whims (and genetic defects) of the Tudor line.
It is noteworthy that in 1521 Mary Boleyn had married one William Carey -- making it appear that Henry's affair with her came *after* she married (Scarisbrick, p. 148). And, of course, she had an interesting younger sister named Anne. (Although the two sisters don't seem to have been particularly friendly; Anne dismissed Mary from the court as soon as she could; Scarisbrick, p. 148).
The date of Anne's birth is not known; Lofts, p. 9, cites authorities giving dates of 1499 or 1500, 1502 or 1503; 1504; and 1507. Lofts herself argues (p. 10) for 1505, but this is based on nothing more than a guess that Anne was 18 when Henry first noticed her in 1523 and would not have wanted an older woman. The largest number of sources appear to me to argue for 1507.
Anne probably had excellent courtly manners; both she and Mary had spent time at the court in France. Both had been taught to read and write and speak French (Lofts, p. 11). Mary probably went to France in 1514 as part of the entourage of Henry VIII's sister Mary, who was to marry Louis XII (Lofts, pp. 11-12) , and Anne followed in around 1519, in one of the periods of peace between England and France (Scarisbrick, p. 148; Lofts, p. 11, thinks she went along with her sister in 1514, which is a key reason why Lofts and others think Anne was born before 1507). She was sent home in 1522 when the wars began again (OxfordCompanion, p. 36; Lofts, p. 25). It was hoped to marry her to James Butler, to heal a feud in Ireland (the Boleyns had some claims to Butler lands, and by marrying Anne to the Butler heir, the argument might be resolved; Lofts, p. 27), but Butler would not agree (Scarisbrick, p. 148).
What attracted Henry to Anne is unclear. There was something wrong with one of her hands (OxfordCompanion, p. 36, says that she had a deformed finger; Lofts, p. 16, says that she had a rudimentary sixth finger on her right hand. Ashley-Kings, p. 634, mentions a Catholic claim that it was shrivelled by the witchcraft she used to seduce Henry). Her neck was so long that some people said she had an extra vertebra (Lofts, p. 16), although there is apparently no evidence of this. She was said to have a large mole on that long neck. (According to Lofts, p. 36, both the mole and the extra finger were claimed as evidence of witchcraft.)
Her appearance in other regards is a conundrum. Her hair was dark. Several sources say that she was not very attractive -- Scarisbrick, e.g., says on page 148, "She does not seem to have been remarkably beautiful, but she had wonderful dark hair in abundance and fine eyes, the legacy of Irish ancestors, together with a firm mouth and a head well set on a long neck that gave her authority and grace." Lofts, p. 16, also mentions her "magnificent dark eyes" and luxurious dark hair.
There seem to be three portraits from life (shown following p. 202 of Ives), plus assorted engravings and carvings (the latter can probably be discounted; one, indeed, makes her look like a sixty-year-old witch). No two of the portraits look alike. One, printed on the cover of Ives and facing page 162 of Scarisbrick, is attractive enough. But is it the original? Another version of this painting appears as #45 in Ormond, and does not appear very beautiful. The second portrait in Ives makes it appear that there was something wrong with her cheeks. The third, by John Hoskins, looks like a simpering child. But the painters of the period were generally not very good; the chief portrait of Henry VIII's mother Elizabeth of York, who was supposed to be stunning, makes her look dreadful. What I observe, comparing portraits #45 and #46 in Ormond, is that (assuming it is accurate) Anne and her successor Jane Seymour looked alike in a lot of ways -- high foreheads, tapered chins, narrow mouths, long, narrow noses with just a slight curve to the bridge, fairly high cheekbones. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder -- and, on the evidence, Anne had a look that Henry liked. She certainly looks prettier than Jane, whom Loach, p. 2, calls "pale and puffy.")
Her introduction to Henry may have come through Mary, who had already had her affair with Henry (Williamson, p. 112). That alone would have gotten Henry in trouble with the Church over the marriage with Anne; although there is a famous instance in the Bible of a man marrying two sisters (Jacob wedded both Leah and Rachel), Leviticus 18:18 declares "you shall not taken a woman as a rival to her sister... while her sister is still alive."
Henry and Anne apparently became involved in 1525 or 1526 (Scarisbrick, p. 149): "In the normal course of events, Anne would have mattered only to Henry's conscience, not to the history of England. She would have been used and discarded.... But, either because of virtue or ambition, Anne refused to become his mistress and thus follow the conventional, inconspicuous path of her sister; and the more she resisted, the more, apparently, did Henry prize her." Lofts, pp. 34-35, tells a similar story: Henry came to visit Thomas Boleyn at Hever Castle, and Thomas concealed his daughter. Henry, who had always had his way since becoming King, did not know how to react to frustration; the fact that he couldn't see Anne just made him want her more. In effect, Thomas and Anne out-bluffed the Henry in a high-stakes poker game for him to sleep with her.
It is amazing to note that Anne thus managed to keep Henry interested in her for at least five years, and probably seven (perhaps more) before they finally slept together (Lofts, p. 36). This even though, Lofts suggests, Henry would have had a much easier time getting a divorce if he had wanted a more suitable wife.
Henry, in his own mind at least, certainly had reason to think he should have a new wife. He did not think he was the source of Catherine's miscarriages; after all, there was his son by Bessie Blount, born 1519, whom Henry made Duke of Richmond (Williamson, p. 91; Prescott, p. 40, notes other titles the boy was given. In 1525, Henry even tried to make Richmond his heir, according to Russell, p. 80; Scarisbrick, p. 151. The appointment as Duke of Richmond was significant because the Richmond Earldom had belonged to Henry VII's family during the Lancastrian dynasty, so it might be considered the title of a royal heir). Apparently Henry, in thinking of his stillborn children, never bothered to look at the rest of his family tree (Henry VII's five children who died young, his grand-uncle Jasper Tudor childless, his great-great-grandfather Charles VI of France insane, two great-granduncles died young, etc.)
It is often stated (e.g. Ashley-Kings, p. 637) that Henry was syphilitic, and that this was the cause of his son Edward VI's death and, presumably, the many miscarriages suffered by Henry's wives. Certainly it would be no surprise if Henry eventually contracted syphilis, given his behavior. But I truly don't think that disease can be the whole of the answer -- after all, Catherine's first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage long before Henry started fooling around seriously. Catherine may not have been Henry's first partner, but there cannot have been many before her (and, given the watch Henry VII kept on his son, she may in fact have been his first).
Much of the argument about Henry's syphilis rests on the claim that Edward VI was a frail boy -- but, as Loach points out on p. 161, he was *not* a frail boy until his final illness (the claim seems to rest on the fact that he died young and was a good scholar, not on any contemporary reports about his health. But Loach, while admitting his undeniable learning, also points out on p. 181 that Edward had a fondness for sports). What's more, his illness, though it took months to kill him, does not fit the symptoms of syphilis, nor of tuberculosis -- nor of arsenic poisoning, really, though it too has been suggested. Loach, p. 162, believes Edward died of the effects of bronchopneumonia, and this sounds correct to me.
Which again leaves us seeking genetic grounds for the myriad Tudor health problems. Williamson says that it is "unprofitable" to speculate about Tudor medical conditions, and Mattingly, p. 143, argues that the rate of death among Catherine's children was not extreme -- but I note that Henry VIII's grandmother Elizabeth Woodville went through as many pregnancies as Catherine, and only one child died. And why then Anne Boleyn's miscarriages, which began after the birth of Elizabeth (Ashley-GB, p. 224)? All these arguments about "unprofitablility" were made before DNA testing. I personally think the current royal family should give permission for a lot of genetic testing. They, however, have not given in to historians on this. In practice, it doesn't matter anyway -- what matters is that Henry had even more problems siring children than did his father.
Disappointment with his allies can't have helped Henry's relationship with Catherine -- especially since the worst offender was unquestionably Ferdinand of Aragon, Catherine's father (Scarisbrook, p. 55, says that Henry "understandably" felt "more than" a grievance against the King of Spain, on p. 56 he mentions that there were already rumours of divorce at this time).
The war with France blew hot and cold for a dozen years; there was actually a halt in 1514, when Henry VIII finally grew tired of being used by Ferdinand and the Emperor Maximilian (Mattingly, p. 164). During this peace, Louis XII married Henry VIII's younger sister Mary, but the elderly Louis died after three months, and his heir (although perhaps attracted to Mary himself; Mattingly, pp. 171-172; Prescott, p. 26, notes several sources calling her one of the prettiest girls they had ever seen) was insistent on a change in policy; Scarisbrick, p. 56. Mary would insist on her right to marry the man of her choice after this, and chose the much older Charles Brandon; the "Nine Days' Queen," Lady Jane Grey, was a grandchild of this union.
This didn't end negotiations with France. Later, there was an attempt at a universal peace; Scarisbrick, pp. 71-73 (although Ashley-GB, p. 206, argues that this had less to do with English attempts at peace but with the need for calm as a new Emperor was chosen and assumed power). Mattingly, p. 194, thinks of it as a last chance to unite "Christendom," that hazy idea many people had of a single worldwide Christian Empire. The peace, though it resulted in the famous meeting on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, as told in Scarisbrick, p. 78, was of course was a complete failure; the wars resumed after a couple of years, forcing England back into battle against France. (Russell, p. 77, makes the interesting point that Henry wrestled against the King of France and "made a very bad loser." It was not the last time he would show this character trait.) Scarisbrick, p. 128, clearly regards Henry as having fought two wars with France. But the situation really resembled the Hundred Years' War: separate phases, but mostly the same issues throughout.
It is fascinating to think what would have happened if the peace -- which Wolsey struggled to uphold with all his ability; Scarisbrick, pp. 88-94 -- had held up. Charles V would not have been distracted from dealing with Lutheranism, meaning the Reformation might have failed. There might have been no Jesuit order; Scarisbrick, p. 96. The history of Italy would have been utterly different. It is one of history's great What Ifs.)
Henry and Wolsey had another reason for wanting peace. The conflicts had accomplished nothing except to bankrupt Henry VIII. Rodger, p. 175, observes, "For England it may be said that the Middle Ages ended in the mud of October 1523 when Suffolk's army abandoned its march on Paris." "During 1524 the English did very little, by land or sea, and before the end of the year they were negotiating for peace. By the time Charles V won his great victory at Pavia on 24 February 1525, shattering the French army and capturing Francis I, it was too late for Henry to pretend that he had contributed anything to the triumph.... To complete Henry's bitterness, Charles V not only rejected all proposals of continuing the war, but repudiated his offer to marry the nine-year-old Princess Mary in favour of Isabella of Portugal, who was twenty-two and richly dowered."
Henry seemingly had hoped to gain the crown of France out of this, or at least regain parts of the Angevin Empire (Scarisbrick, pp. 136-138). But Charles had used up his cash on hand, and was not willing to keep fighting nor waste his victory paying off a monarch who had contributed little. For the English, the war had accomplished absolutely nothing except to cause a severe economic recession in England's merchant classes (Williamson, p. 105); there had been riots against foreigners in 1517 (Russell, p. 76), and Henry's attempt to raise money for his wars ("the Amicable Grant," which was actually extorted) failed badly (Russell, p. 79).
Henry had also made an attempt to be elected Holy Roman Emperor when Maximilian died in 1519 (Scarisbrick, pp. 99-101; Mattingly, p. 202, points out that this wasn't quite as absurd as it sounds, since Charles V was no more German than Henry. But it was still pretty crazy). I rather doubt that the marriage to Catherine, which tied him to Charles V, helped. In any case, Henry's campaign was incompetent (Scarisbrick, p. 102); I can easily imagine the Electors saying to themselves, "Him?" and laughing their heads off. He had no ties with Germany (not a requirement at the time, but it helped), he had been successfully outwitted by France, Spain, and the old Emperor Maximilian, and he didn't even have many relatives to help him rule.
Henry also started talking about leading a crusade, assuming he managed to beget an heir (Scarisbrick, p. 105). He didn't get an heir, but the whole thing was surely moonshine anyway. Medieval kings promised crusades the way modern political leaders promise increases in programs combined with tax cuts: They know it's absurd but they want the political credit.
From that time on, Henry -- with his horizons turned inward -- had no use for the Spanish alliance. And Henry seems to have been a man who had problems with power. Scarisbrick, pp. 6-7, notes that his father, while giving him a decent education, had strictly limited his activities. He had no experience of power -- and, in all likelihood, a strong resentment against being guided. This, combined with those lousy Tudor genes, would explain much of the tragedy and paranoia of his later years.
Henry was an astonishingly complex personality -- I can't help but notice how much he seems to have inherited from both sides of his family. He had all the extraordinary beauty of his mother Elizabeth of York, and of her father Edward IV; he also had Edward IV's gusto and extravagant tastes -- and his same tendency to grow fat in his later years. He was also like Edward in his intelligent laziness: He delegated things he perhaps should not have, but often proved to have more insight into the matter than Wolsey or the other councilor in charge of the problem (see the description of his handling of foreign policy in Scarisbrick, pp. 45-46).
But where Edward IV was friendly with all, Henry VIII inherited the suspicion and thirst for power and brutality of his father Henry Tudor. (I say this by contrast with Ashley-GB, p. 203, who declares, "Ruthless and cruel, he had more of his maternal grandfather, Edward IV, in him than the temperate statesmanship of his father." Individually, all parts of this sentence are true, but they add up to a falsehood; Henry VIII was ruthless, but this was far more characteristic of his father than of Edward IV. Henry VIII was like Edward IV not in his cruelty but in his looks and in his love of show and in his list for pleasure.) It was a dangerous combination. As Scarisbrick observes on p. 17, "He was a formidable, captivating man who wore regality with splendid conviction. But easily and unpredictably his great charm could turn into anger and shouting.... He was highly-strung and unstable; hypochondriac and possessed of a strong sense of cruelty."
Scarisbrook speculates about an Oedipus complex; in literal terms, this is absurd, since his mother died before he reached puberty -- but it may well be that he resented and envied his father and was influenced by Henry Tudor's strange and secretive traits. Mattingly p. 127, agrees that his strict upbringing at the hands of his harsh father and rigid paternal grandmother must have left him with a feeling of repression and boredom. One might even argue that his prompt marriage was one more way to get back at his dead father.
For a bloody tyrant (which he was), Henry also had a surprisingly difficult time being firm. Henry the overbearing monarch could fire Wolsey with ease; Henry the coward couldn't even tell him to his face. When Wolsey, after his dismissal, managed to meet Henry, the King sounded as if he would take him back into service. Once Wolsey left -- Henry made sure he never saw him again (Lofts, p. 81).
Mattingly, p. 128, makes the interesting observation that Henry wrote "Pastance with good company" (usually now called "Pass Time with Good Company") very soon after his father and grandmother died. Clearly he was enjoying his freedom. Yet Mattingly, p. 136, also argues that Henry had a deep flaw: "He never quite outgrew the need for someone to lean on, some affectionate, admiring mentor and guide to protect his self-esteem.... He was to turn to one such image after another for most of his life, only to fling away from each in outraged indignation when he found the image had a life of its own. This was a great part of his tragedy."
And Catherine, it appears, was the first of these confidante/victims.
At first Henry seemed to treat his new wife with great affection, dedicating tournaments to her and dancing with her and such (Mattingly, pp. 131-135). But I can't help but think that Henry was less in love with Catherine than with the idea of Courtly Love; he wanted to be some woman's True Knight, and the woman involved hardly mattered. When he got bored with that -- as he got bored with everything -- he no longer cared about her.
Perhaps it will give you some idea of what he was like to know that, in 1534, he actually enacted a law declaring it treason to call him a tyrant! (Russell, p. 43; on p. 90, Russell notes that calling Henry a heretic, schismatic, usurper of the crown, or infidel was also treason.. Given that he was unquestionably a schismatic, and his father was unquestionably an usurper, Henry was making it treason simply to state facts. But this was in the aftermath of the Act of Supremacy which made Henry, not the Pope, head of the English church; Ashley-GB, p. 220. Presumably Henry, as the new God of England, would have declared whispers about him to be blasphemy, except that treason bore harsher penalties.). This even though he was, pretty definitely, the worst tyrant in English history since William the Conqueror (note that his father had usurped the throne, and that Henry VIII used arbitrary powers to a greater extent than any other English king).
In 1536 a law was passed "to extinguish the authority of the Bishop of Rome" (Ashley-GB, p. 220). From that time the rift was beyond mending.
Henry VIII's deep and abiding concern was to have a son to succeed him. By this time, there was consensus that English law permitted succession in the female line -- Henry II and Edward IV both succeeded in this way, and indeed Henry VII"s feeble claim to the crown came through his mother. But no woman had ever actually *ruled* in England (Trevelyan, p. 53), unless you count Matilda/Maud, who fought a civil war with King Stephen but is usually not considered to have ruled. In the cases of Henry II (the son of Matilda) and Henry VII, the mother through whom each claimed the throne was still alive (indeed, Henry VII's mother Margaret Beaufort died in the same year as her son, and was probably more mentally sound at the end than he was), but still the son, not the mother, took the throne.
In addition, if a daughter succeeded, there were only two possibilities: She would marry a foreign King, or she would marry an Englishman. If she married a foreign king, and England would be joined to that nation (Lofts, p. 50 -- although it is ironic to note that, ultimately, this is how England and Scotland united; the Scottish King came to rule England. But England dominated the Union). The idea of a foreigner coming to England as King was anything but popular, despite the fact that Mary was shopped around to foreign kings like mad -- at one time, there were theoretical agreements that she would marry the Emperor, the King of France, and the King of Scotland (Prescott, pp. 30-31), none of which came to fruition; she would eventually marry the son of Emperor Charles V, but only after Henry VIII was in his grave.
The case of marrying an Englishman had even more tricky implications, because presumably it would have to be someone of royal blood -- and there were *no* male Tudors for her to marry. She would have no choice but to marry a Yorkist (Prescott, p. 40) -- someone whose claim to the throne was stronger than hers. The political implications of that were extremely serious; the heir would obviously be tempted to take the throne in his own name. (To be sure, Henry VIII could have said that his father was not king by right, and claimed the throne in the name of his mother Elizabeth of York. This would have been right and proper. But it wasn't Henry's way.)
No one knew how the English would react to a female monarch. The king, it was thought, needed to be able to lead in battle (Scarisbrick, p. 23) -- clearly no one realized that no English king after Richard III would ever be an effective leader of troops in combat. (Some showed up on the battlefield, and Charles I even pretended to command. So did Henry VIII himself in his "invasion" of France. But they didn't amount to much, and didn't need to; the troops and the generals did their jobs while letting the monarch pretend to be in charge.)
Plus the Wars of the Roses were still remembered, during which three kings (Henry VI, Edward V, and Richard III) had all met violent ends, and the throne changed hands involuntarily five times in 25 years. The Tudors had ruthlessly destroyed their opponents, impoverishing England politically and perhaps even economically (Gillingham, p. 11), but there was always the fear that a female monarch would be more likely to be overthrown.
Several scholars fix on the year 1527 as the time when Henry had had enough (e.g. Williamson, p. 111). Catherine was 42, and clearly would not produce a son (no one says so outright, but it sounds as if she might have reached menopause). Henry decided that his marriage had been unlawful and immoral, and demanded an annulment from the Pope (Bryant, p. 43). And he was in a hurry, because he was becoming enamored of Anne Boleyn (Halliday, p. 87) -- though Bainton, p. 187, points out, in fairness to Henry, that the idea of a divorce had first been mentioned in 1514 when Anne was probably only seven or eight years old. According to Mattingly, pp. 168-169, nothing came of that at the time because Catherine was pregnant again (cf. Prescott, p. 40). But the boy was either born dead or died soon after. (Still, it is noteworthy that it is at about this time that Henry started fooling around with Bessie Blount). Catherine's next pregnancy resulted in the birth of the future Queen Mary, but that was the end.
Williamson, p. 112, described the psychological problem as follows: "WIth the passing years the succession problem became more urgent.... Then came Anne Boleyn, and desire matched with conscience, sweeping the King down a muddy torrent in which his honesty was challengeable and he in his heart could scarcely have been certain how he fared. He was to emerge a worse man than he entered, with a conscience that he had learned to shape to his ends, and coarsened by some brutal actions. A fairly good man had been placed in a situation for which he was not good enough."
Shakespeare and Fletcher, in Henry VIII, were much more direct about it (II.ii.16-18):
Chamberlain:
It seems the marriage with his brother's wife
Has crept too near his conscience.
Suffolk [aside]:
No, his conscience
Has crept too near another lady.
Henry claimed moral scruples, citing as his basis Leviticus 20:21 and the claim that a man who takes his brother's wife will be childless (Ashley-GB, p. 216). Henry apparently thought -- or at least claimed to think -- that all Catherine's miscarriages were punishment for an unlawful marriage; Scarisbrick, p. 152. This although, it should be noted, the marriage of Henry and Catherine was not childless; even if the miscarriages don't count, the Princess Mary was obviously still alive. We might add that, although the passage in Leviticus was the basis for Henry's claim that his conscience troubled him, he told conflicting stories about how he became aware of the problem (Prescott, p. 41).
Since it seemed unlikely that Catherine would actually die any time soon, and the English did not use poisoning the way other nations did (Lofts, pp. 88-89), Henry had to set her aside so that he could marry Anne (or someone) and beget a male heir (Halliday, p. 87). That, of course, meant appealing to the Pope.
This turned into a something of a comedy. The details need not concern us, but it started with a trial (or, more properly, a preliminary examination to determine the situation) convened by Wolsey. This was later expanded to include a papal representative whom the Pope wanted to make sure made no decision. There were races between Henry's and Catherine's messengers to reach Charles V and the Pontiff. There were attempts by Henry to steal Papal messages (Scarisbrick, p. 226). There were attempts to trick the Pope. In a blatantly insulting move, Henry once chose Anne Boleyn's brother as one of his emissaries (Scarisbrick, p. 259). Frankly, if there had been any authority capable of holding Henry to account, he would surely have been put on trial for fraud.
In the end, the trial was placed directly before the Pope (Scarisbrick, pp. 154-157). So wild were the negotiations that apparently there was actually a suggestion at one point that Henry be allowed to have two wives (Russell, p. 87. This had a precedent of sorts -- king Canute had had two wives -- but I doubt anyone actually dared bring that up).
Russell, pp. 84-85, considers Henry to have done an incompetent job of presenting his case. (Scarisbrick, p. 204, at one point argues that Henry even tried to *trick* the Papal officials.) Henry apparently tried to construct a case that marriage to a brother's wife was somehow worse than marrying someone else to whom one had an "affinity" -- an argument with weak scriptural and logical support. (Hence the argument about Catherine's miscarriages: Henry was trying to turn bad genes into theological evidence!) Wolsey apparently tried for another argument, based on the marriage between Arthur and Catherine not being consummated, but Henry of course got to try his way first -- and by doing so perhaps biased the court against him.
In any case, Pope Clement had even stronger reasons than most Popes not to want to overturn the dispensation. Lofts, p. 53, notes that he himself was illegitimate (a Medici by-blow) and had needed a dispensation to enter the higher priesthood. If dispensations were easily set aside, his place as Pope would be in peril.
It might be worth a short excursus here on the actual law. There are three Biblical texts which explicitly address two siblings with the same sexual partner. Leviticus 18:16 states that "you shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife" (i.e. have sexual relations with her); Leviticus 20:21 says that a man who takes a brother's wife is guilty of impurity, and the relationship "will be childless." However, Deuteronomy 25:5-6 specifically addresses the case of a man who dies childless. In this case, it is the duty of his living brother to marry the dead man's widow in order to preserve the dead man's name (this is known as "Levirate marriage").
Although not explicitly done in response to the Mosaic law, there are two clear Old Testament instances of the Levirate phenomenon. One is in in Genesis 38, where Judah's son Er married Tamar, but died without offspring. Judah's second son Onan was married to Tamar, but refused to have children by her and also died. Judah's third son Shelah was then expected to marry Tamar, but Judah refused to let it happen. (Tamar then tricked Judah himself into her bed, but that isn't really the point. The point is that the brothers-in-law were expected to marry the first brother's wife and have children by her.) The second instance is in the Book of Ruth, in which Ruth married a Judean man who died without producing a child. In order to inherit the dead man's lands, the heir had to marry Ruth as well. (And the first heir, rather than marry her, refused the inheritance.)
The Church also claimed that Joseph the father of Jesus was the offspring of a Levirate marriage. This was an attempt to explain the fact that Matthew and Luke give irreconcileable genealogies of Jesus. This is just silliness, however, Matthew's genealogy is impossible and Luke's, while possible, does not produce a Levirate next-of-kin for the Matthean father. It was brought up in the discussions of Henry's divorce (Scarisbrick, p. 169) but does not actually matter.
Of course, it should be remembered that Jewish law allowed a man multiple wives, which made Levirate marriage easier. Indeed, there is the famous instance of a man marrying two sisters: Jacob married both Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29). The church, however, banned polygamy. That pretty much threw "ordinary" levirate marriage out the window, since it would be impossible if a dead man's younger brother were married.. But I think that, if we went by the "original intent" of the Biblical writers, that Henry VIII had it dead wrong: His marriage to Catherine of Aragon was Biblically correct (no matter whether Arthur and Catherine had slept together) as an instance of Levirate marriage, since Catherine had had no children -- plus Henry's marriage to Anne was at best extremely dubious since he had already been involved with Mary Boleyn.
The church authorities by and large agreed with this interpretation -- Scarisbrick, pp. 166-167, lists the many significant authorities behind the official position. He then spends *thirty pages* arguing the various points. But it basically boils down to, "No way, Jose." There had been many previous annullment cases similar to Henry's, meaning that the church's position had been very well worked out and myriad proofs brought forward. I doubt that there had been as much discussion about a man having relations with two sisters, but that was trivial; if Henry couldn't divorce Catherine, he couldn't marry Anne.
There might have been a way around all this. To a very great extent, the argument game down to one question: Was Catherine's marriage to Prince Arthur consummated? Catherine, when the matter came up during the divorce trial, claimed that it was not (she apparently told this to the papal investigator as part of a confession but permitted -- in effect, demanded -- that he reveal her side of the story; Scarisbrick, p. 214). The investigater, Campeggio, had arrived with a proposal which would allow for an amicable annullment, scattering blame widely enough that no one would be too badly affected. Catherine flatly refused to go along (as was her right). She also refused to accept any trial that took place in England (Bainton, p. 188). Catherine also wrote to her father that she had not slept with Arthur (Scarisbrick, p. 188). In an unguarded moment, Henry VIII himself apparently said that Catherine was a virgin when he married her. On this basis, Scarisbrick is certain that Catherine and Arthur had not slept together. Ashley-GB, p. 215, also thinks it "scarcely likely" that the marriage was consummated.
On the one hand, given that Prince Arthur had been fifteen when he died, and married for five months, what are the odds that he wouldn't have slept with a pretty girl if he could get away with it? Mattingly, p. 42, notes that several people about the court reported that Arthur boasted somewhat about his wedding night, and Scarisbrick, p. 225, lists the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk as bringing testimony on the point, though all such testimony was given after Henry VIII was trying to get his divorce, when such a report might help them get ahead. In any case, this was a quarter century later; Scarisbrick, p. 189, considers this evidence to be of no value. But the Spanish themselves had said it for a time after Arthur's death, according to Mattingly, p. 54 -- until someone thought of the idea of the remarriage, whereupon they shut up. Even Scarisbrick, p. 189, while saying that the non-consummation of the marriage to Arthur was a "moral certainty," admits that it could not legally be proved either way. and also maintained that her marriage to Prince Arthur had never been consummated (she apparently told this to the papal investigator as part of a confession but permitted -- in effect, demanded -- that he reveal her side of the story; Scarisbrick, p. 214). The investigater, Campeggio, had arrived with a proposal which would allow for an amicable annullment, scattering blame widely enough that no one would be too badly affected. Catherine flatly refused to go along (as was her right). She also refused to accept any trial that took place in England (Bainton, p. 188).
At another time, Henry's poor case might not have mattered; political factors might have gotten Henry his annullment (or a dissolution on some other grounds). Not in the 1520s, though. In 1527, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, had captured Rome (Bainton, p. 185). Although there was little love lost between Emperor and Pontiff (Scarisbrick, p. 198), the Pope was at the mercy of Charles V, who just happened to be Catherine's nephew (Bryant, p. 43, Trevelyan, p. 54, Ashley-GB, p. 216; though Scarisbrick, p. 76, notes that aunt and nephew never even met until 1520 when Charles V had a meeting with Henry). Plus Charles was the one major monarch actively combatting Lutheranism. The Pope could not possibly offend Charles V unless he could somehow get free of the Emperor's control.
The pontiff did suggest that Catherine might retire to a nunnery, which had the advantage that it would not render Mary illegitimate (Lofts, p. 61). Henry, p. 68, even used a little psychological warfare to encourage this, by parading Anne around the court (Lofts, p. 68). Catherine, however, refused (Bainton, p. 188; Lofts, p. 62, says that her religion, which was not of the same empty, ritual sort as Henry's and Wolsey's, would not allow her to take a vow unless she really meant to be a true nun).
Alternately, the Pope was apparently prepared to offer Henry a new dispensation eliminating any defects in the first dispensation that let him marry Catherine (Lofts, p. 61). This would dispel any doubts about Mary's legitimacy -- but it wouldn't get Henry a son, or let him marry Anne Boleyn. For Henry, that was no answer.
Eventually, it appears, Henry's envoys (at least one of whom would later turn Protestant) actually started making threats against the Pope. Wolsey hinted, during the English trial, that Henry might split with Rome if he didn't have his way (Scarisbrick, p, 213). But "The difficulty of taking this line with the Pope was that the English could never succeed in frightening him more than Charles could" (Russell, pp. 86-87).
The Pope did his best to temporize -- even the commissioner he sent, Cardinal Campeggio, was apparently chosen because he had so many infirmities that he literally could not move quickly (Lofts, p. 57).
Mattingly, pp. 12-13, makes another interesting point: Some of Catherine's earliest memories were of her mother and father taking over Granada. She believed, more truly than most, in the power and dominance of the Catholic church, and would not cooperate with Henry in fighting it. Henry was stuck. He deprived Wolsey of his Chancelorship, but that didn't help him get a new Pope. And Catherine had had seven years of widowhood and poverty while she waited to marry Henry VIII; if by any chance she had not been stubborn and self-reliant before, those years of difficulty would surely have made her so (Mattingly, p. 122). And, as Mattingly points out on p. 175, Catherine would have been less worried than Henry about a daughter succeeding to a kingdom; after all, her mother had been the regnant Queen of Castile, and her sister was nominally monarch of Aragon and Castille both.
The fact that Henry wanted Anne Boleyn as his new wife didn't help his case either -- as an Englishwoman, and a commoner at that, she cemented no alliances, brought in no wealth, and encouraged no negotiations (Russell, p. 83). Wolsey had hoped Henry would marry a French princess (Lofts, p. 44), and apparently the Papacy would have been more open to a marriage with diplomatic advantages (Lofts, p. 67), but Henry knew what he wanted. As Russell tartly comments on p. 83, "Henry's obtrusive love for Anne made him look like a middle-aged man asking the Pope to sanction his fling." Henry was in the goofy position of arguing that it was unlawful for him to be wed to Catherine of Aragon because it meant she had been involved with two brothers, but he himself wanted to have sexual connections with two sisters (Mary and Anne Boleyn) -- and the law against affinity applied whether there had been a marriage contract or not; it was based on whether the relationship had been consummated (Russell, p. 84; Scarisbrick, pp. 160-161).
There probably wasn't any love lost between Anne and Wolsey; When she first came to court, she had attracted the attention of the poet Thomas Wyatt and from Henry Percy, son of the earl of Northumberland. Apparently Northumberland, although already betrothed, wanted to marry her, and Wolsey blocked the idea (Scarisbrick, pp. 148-149; Lofts, p. 30, mentions a report that she would rather have been "Harry [Percy's] Countess than Henry's Queen"). It is unlikely Anne trusted Wolsey, and presumably he returned the feeling. It is possible that Henry put Wolsey up to blocking the Percy marriage because he was already interested in Anne. Certainly the court used all the levers it had, including hinting that a 9000 pound suspended fine against Northumberland would have to be paid if the marriage went through (Lofts, p. 31). Anne went home to her family, reportedly blaming Wolsey for all her troubles (Lofts, p. 32). And there was a court party which disliked Wolsey, and once Anne's situation changed, it was doubtless willing to use Anne against him (Scarisbrick, p. 229).
Henry had another prospect, in that Wolsey wanted to be Pope (at least, many sources think so; Russell, p. 74, argues that he made no moves to try to build support for his candidacy, and Scarisbrick, pp. 107-109, argues that it was all Henry's idea). There were two elections at which he might have had a chance. But when Leo X died in 1521, it was too soon for Wolsey's hopes (Williamson, p. 100), and the situation for Wolsey was no better a year later when Adrian VI died and was replaced by Clement VII (Williamson, p. 103). And Clement outlived Wolsey -- as well as outlasting Henry's adherence to Catholicism. Meanwhile, parliament was getting stubborn; Williamson, p. 102, notes the intense pressure Henry and Wolsey exerted on parliament to get just half of what they had requested. Little wonder Henry gradually became disillusioned with Wolsey!
After Wolsey fell, Henry appointed Thomas More Chancellor (Scarisbrick, p. 236; Williamson, p. 117). That was hardly an improvement; More was, if anything, more staunchly Catholic than Wolsey, but with no influence in the Church -- or with anyone else. Even more amazing, he was very much admired and liked by Catherine (Mattingly, p. 179). More would resign after two and a half years, when Parliament passed a law giving the King veto power over church convocations (Ashley-GB, p. 219); he was executed two years after that. It is ironic to note that, just days after taking office in 1529, More opened the first parliament Henry had convened in six years. This parliament would become the Reformation Parliament. Scarisbrick, p. 245, considers these actions of 1529 to be a token that Henry, even if he had not yet broken with Rome, had "thr[own] in his lot with anticlericalism, which could never have made full progress without him." He goes on to add that Henry intended Reformation Parliament "to be a stick with which to beat Clement for the sake of the divorce." But had he gotten the divorce, he might well have stopped there.
Wolsey died in 1530, while under arrest, and would probably have been executed had he lived much longer; the king had deprived him of his secular offices on trumped-up charges (Ashley-GB, p. 217), and could doubtless find more. So thoroughly did Henry grow tired of Wolsey that he even reorganized government to reduce the role of the Chancellor; Cromwell, who replaced Wolsey as Henry's main instrument, was given the office of Secretary, and henceforth government was primarily conducted by Privy Council and Star Chamber (Ashley-GB, p. 226).
The Reformation Parliament worked rather slowly, each year adding a few new burdens on the clergy (Ashley, GB, p. 218). It prevented a clerical rebellion -- but it also meant that Rome was slow to respond.
Henry at the time he began to seek the divorce was once again allied with Spain (now ruled by Charles V) against France. His first attempt to change the situation saw him pull out of the Spanish alliance and support the French who were trying to free the Pope from Charles's domination. This proved a very complete and disastrous failure (Rodger, p. 177. On p. 178, Rodger hints that, had not Charles V been distracted, England might have been in a great deal of danger at this time).
Henry finally found a solution to his dynastic dilemma, if not his diplomatic disasters, by founding the Harry Catholic Church. Or so it might have been called. Henry called a parliament, and it cut England off from the Catholic Church. And put Henry in charge. (Trevelyan, p. 57, says parliament did so entirely voluntarily, and the churchmen, with the spirit beaten out of them by the now-dead Wolsey, went along rather than fight; so also Ashley-GB, p. 223 -- although Scarisbrick, p. 240, disagrees with this interpretation, saying they had plenty of resistance left. Even the patriotic Trevelyan admits that a choice between Pope and Henry VIII as head of the church wasn't a great set of options. Trevelyan adds that "The Reformation Parliament was not packed. It was not necessary to pack it. The legislation that completed the breach with Rome, destroyed the monasteries and established the supremacy of the State over the Church in England, was prepared by Privy Councillors and passed after discussion by both houses.")
It may well be that Anne Boleyn actually encouraged Henry in his actions; she reportedly had religious views which tended toward the Protestant (Rodger, p. 177; OxfordCompanion, p. 36, says "[s]he has been accused of bringing about the Reformation single-handedly." It is known that the first edition Miles Coverdale's English Bible of 1535 -- the first printed English-language Bible not to be suppressed -- was dedicated to Henry and to Anne (and the dedication hastily changed when Anne fell; Rylands, pp. 86-88 prints relevant portions of the cover page texts of the two editions. It is ironic to note that Coverdale, who was no scholar of Biblical languages, largely used the translation of William Tyndale -- which had been suppressed by Henry; Bainton, pp. 195-196 -- insofar is it was extant, and for the rest translated "out of Douche [German] and Latin" (Rylands, p. 46) without reference to Greek or Hebrew. Luther's reformation was built largely on reading the Bible in Greek. Henry's first accepted Bible was based upon the Latin to an extent that no Protestant today would voluntarily accept).
Scarisbrick, p. 249, comments that "Certainly [Henry] had a taste for theology, but there is no evidence that he loved the object of his study. His Catholicism smacks strongly of the notional and the superstitious and seems to have been of the very kind which a Luther or a Loyola deplored and fought most -- external, mechanical, static; something inherited and undemanding." "Henry's was a conventional Catholicism which would not bear any great weight in time of crisis or ever cost its owner much. Recently it had threatened to cost him a great deal."
Then along came an obscure cleric named Thomas Cranmer, who so insignificant that he didn't even have a "living" -- a position in a parish (Lofts, pp. 84-85; Scarisbrick, p. 255, although he notes that the source is Foxe, who was not beyond exaggerating fact for dramatic effect). Cranmer proposed a clever trick to help along Henry's divorce: He suggested consulting the opinions of the universities of Europe (interestingly, even consulting Jewish experts; Lofts, pp. 85-86). Henry happily followed the suggestion -- and started Cranmer up the promotional ladder.
The issue had long been debated, and there was much material in the church authorities. Indeed, had Henry only known, it had been debated even before the Christian Era; there are discussions of it in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Vermes, pp. 36-37) -- and even back then, the interpretation would have been unfavorable to Henry.
By a strange coincidence, the English universities concluded that Henry could not marry his brother's widow, as did some Lutheran universities that would do anything that weakened the Pope (Lofts, p. 87), while those in Spain, in particular, concluded that the marriage was permissible (Ashley-GB, p. 218). Cranmer hadn't really done much for Henry's cause -- but he did earn himself an appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer is said to have had "Lutheran" leanings at this time (Bainton, p. 190). Yet the Pope confirmed him -- only to have Cranmer go along with Henry's petition for annulment and also Henry's break with the Catholic church.
Russell, p. 88, affirms that "[t]here was no one moment at which Henry VIII 'broke with Rome.'" He suggests (p. 89) that Henry's real goal was a more limited one: The church could still deal with heresy, but Henry would be independent on secular matters. The papacy, of course, was not interested. But Henry acted almost as if he had had his way. Theologically, the movement was hardly distinguishable from Roman Catholicism -- "schism without heresy" (Bainton, p. 199). Bainton, p. 184, mentions the pride with which Anglicans mention their "Middle Way" between Catholicism and radical Protestantism. But in fact Anglicanism today is rarely moderate on particular issues; it usually stands fully with Catholicism or fully with the Protestants. It's just that it sides now with one, now with the other. Russell, p. 68, makes the ironic point that "Almost every grievance that was being urged against the [Catholic] church in the 1520s was still being urged against [the Anglican church] by the Elizabethan puritans at the end of the century.")
Henry had once been declared "Defender of the Faith" by the Pope for a tract he had written against Lutheranism (Delderfield, p. 67. Some have argued that Henry put his name on someone else's work, but Scarisbrick, pp. 110-113 says that while Henry probably had help, he believes the King really did control the final form, which seems likely, given the superficial attractiveness and lack of genuine substance -- very Henry-like). Henry may have done it merely in an attempt to lure a fancy title out of the Pope (Scarisbrick, p. 115), but he was hardly going to back away from what he had written, especially since it remained popular.
In all essentials except obedience to the Papacy, he remained a Catholic -- Halliday, p. 89, says that "this first stage of the Reformation was purely political, involving no change of doctrine" and adds that Henry still executed people who denied transubstantiation or would abolish clerical celibacy. Ashley-GB, p. 221, mentions that Henry executed a group of Anabaptists, although he suggests that Henry did so to make it appear he wasn't just picking on Catholics. Bainton, p. 198, points out that Henry's own Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, had to hide the wife he had married after the schism because the church refused to abandon celibacy! (Ashley-GB, p. 227).
Henry was still burning English Bibles as late as 1530 (Scarisbrick, pp. 252-253), and when he did finally authorize a translation, it was the version of Miles Coverdale, which was exceptionally bad --Coverdale, who was no scholar of Biblical languages, largely used the translation of William Tyndale (which had been suppressed by Henry; Bainton, pp. 195-196) insofar is it was extant, and for the rest translated "out of Douche [German] and Latin" (Rylands, p. 46) without reference to Greek or Hebrew. Luther's reformation was built largely on reading the Bible in Greek. Henry's first accepted Bible was based upon the Latin to an extent that no Protestant today would voluntarily accept -- there were places where it was removed from the Hebrew at four degrees!).
Similarly, the Six Articles of 1539 were extremely conservative: They upheld transubstantiation, communion in one kind for the laity, clerical celibacy, the confessional, private masses, and vows of clerical vocation (Ashley-GB, p. 226) -- all of which were swept aside in most of the Protestant and Reformed churches.
The only mercy in all this was that the acts were not rigorously enforced, according to Trevelyan, p. 65. Ashley, pp. 226-227, notes a partial weakening of the Six Articles in 1540, and an amnesty, and notes that "As he grew older, the king became a little more tolerant, though no less unpredictable."
(Much of the movement away from Catholicism came later, in the reign of Edward VI, when the English church moved toward Luther and even toward Calvin; Bainton, p. 199. It was not until the reign of Elizabeth that the final compromise was reached and the Act of Uniformity that truly defined the Anglican church was passed; Bainton, p. 201; on pp. 208-209 he points out the "studied ambiguity" of many of Elizabeth's rules.)
"[Henry's] rupture with Rome did not mean that the faith had been altered, and Henry may well have considered him quite as good a champion as the frivolous popes of the Renaissance -- if not better." (Bainton, p. 192). It may even be true -- awful can be better than incredibly awful.
It was not until Cromwell came to power that the break with Rome became fully evident. In 1532, the Reformation Parliament passed the "Supplication against Ordinaries," which was a key step in the break with Rome. In 1533, Henry finally married Anne Boleyn, although he did so in secret (Ashley-GB, p. 219). She quickly became pregnant with the future Elizabeth I.
A later parliament enacted an Act which formally cut off the English church from Rome (Bainton, p. 191). An Act of Succession followed, annulling Henry's marriage to Catherine (she was officially called the Dowager of Arthur thereafter). Anne Boleyn was Queen and her daughter Elizabeth was legitimate (and, at that moment at least, the heir to the throne). At that point, the Archbishop of Canterbury seemed to be head of the English church, but the 1534 Act of Supremacy made the king "the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England" (Bainton, p. 191).
Later, of course, Henry would tilt toward a more thorough Protestantism, dissolving the monasteries to get his hands on their money (in 1537, according to Ashley-GB, p. 222; Halliday, p. 88, comments that the church owned a fourth of English land), letting Cranmer and Cromwell produce a series of changes in worship (Trevelyan, p. 54), and allowing the translation of the Bible into English (Rylands, pp. 47-50), but at first the Anglican church was just a Catholic church with the head chopped off and its lands gone (Ashley-GB, p. 222, suggests that Henry -- who picked up half the profits of the dissolution of the Monasteries -- became "the richest prince in the whole of Christendom." Until he squandered the money,anyway).
Despite all this, "If in the last years of his reign [Henry] moved away from extreme religious conservatism, the policy of the Six Articles was not officially altered and he died in effect a Catholic -- but not a Roman Catholic -- king" (Ashley-GB, p. 227).
Henry did face a sort of rebellion in 1536, culminating in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Ashley-GB, p. 223, thinks this might have succeeded had it had a stronger leader.
"No impartial historian can pretend that the Henrician Reformation makes an edifying story. It was motivated by lust and thrust forward by greed. The spoils of the monasteries went not to pay for education or social improvement, but for the rearmament necessary to protect the ecclesiastical settlement" (Ashley-GB, p. 224).
Anne's was a dangerous path. There was one previous instance of a woman of similar background refusing to be the King's mistress: Elizabeth Woodville had managed to marry Edward IV -- and it was the ruin of her dynasty which had brought the Tudors to the throne. (For background on this, see again "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]. Evidently neither Anne nor Henry saw the parallel -- even though it was Henry's own uncles Edward V and Richard of York who had been killed in the debacle that ended the Yorkist regime. It's even just barely possible that Henry's father had killed them.)
Her little dance with Henry did have its payoffs. Her father was given a title (Viscount Rochford) and a variety of financial rewards; her brother George was given a manor (Lofts, p. 41).
It perhaps gives us an insight into Henry and his relationships with women that Henry, when Anne came down with the sweating sickness, promptly fled (Scarisbrick, pp. 210-211; Lofts, p. 58), even though this was at the height of his alleged love for her. (Compare this to Catherine, who stayed by Henry's side during a long period of illness years earlier; Mattingly, p. 162.) As Henry might have written had he anticipated Shakespeare, "Henry loves Henry, that is, I am I" (cf. Richard III, V.iii.183).
The epidemic of the sweat killed Mary Boleyn's husband, leaving Mary dependent on Anne (Lofts, p. 59). This may not have improved relations between the sisters, but it made no difference in Henry's feelings.
Of course, soon after Henry married Anne, the cycle started over: She bore the future Queen Elizabeth in 1533 (Halliday, p. 88), but the miscarriages followed. Henry still wanted a son. He also wanted Jane Seymour. And Anne was not a popular Queen (Trevelyan, p. 55), and unlike Catherine, she didn't have the might of Spain behind her, either.
Anne's lack of popular appeal is an interesting contrast to Catherine. Williamson, p. 115, notes, "In 1528 the sentiments of London and of all England were touched by the ill-treatment of Queen Catherine. She was well-liked for her honest and fearless character, in spite of her foreign blood." Similarly, Scarisbrick, p. 216, remarks "Catherine was without doubt so popular a queen that the growning rumour... of the King's intention to cast her aside inevitably aroused consternation. One day when she and Henry were passing through a gallery joining Bridewell Palace to Blackfriars so large a crowd cheered her that Henry gave orders that the public should no longer be allowed to gather outside." Henry may have tried to force Catherine to avoid being seen in public (Lofts, p. 65). Catherine seems also to have promoted education (Mattingly, pp. 188-189), humanist learning, and even improved agricultural practices. Frankly, she seems to have been a better Queen than Henry was King.
Henry by now was becoming a pure tyrant (Halliday, p. 90), executing even his old friends and supporters (for *this* people had traded in the Yorkists?). In 1521 he killed off the Duke of Buckingham -- a former tennis colleague (Scarisbrick, p. 121) -- simply because Buckingham may have thought about taking the throne (Williamson, pp. 98-99; Mattingly, p. 38, describes him as "more a courtier than a soldier or statesman -- handsome, charming, extravagant, a little rattle-brained, a little stupid" -- the sort of man who might try for the throne but would have little chance of gaining it. Although I note that Henry had also perhaps been tempted to an affair with one of his relatives; Mattingly, p. 145. Russell, p. 75, claims that Buckingham talked of killing Henry and said that the death of Henry's son was divine action. But I suspect that this was simply the official excuse for the execution; the charges have the standard smell of Tudor propaganda, and it is clear that Wolsey disliked the "arrogant, hot-tempered" Duke; Scarisbrick, p. 120). Earlier still, in 1512, he had executed Edmund de la Pole (Scarisbrick, p. 32), whose only crime was to be a male descended from a sister of Edward IV (in other words, he was Henry's first cousin once removed). Why not execute a wife who displeased him as well?
Henry's treatment of Anne was, of course, exceptionally unfair even by his callous standards. But it was hardly unique. Not only did he later execute another wife, Catherine Howard (on rather better grounds, but still, he could have gotten a divorce) but also Cromwell, the minister who had helped him start his reformation (he was executed in July 1540, only a year after being created Earl of Essex; Ashley-GB, p. 225), and of course Thomas More (Trevelyan, p. 55). And, of course, he crushed the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Anne's fall was spectacularly rapid. In January 1536 she had a miscarriage (Loach, p. 1, who speculates that this set Henry's eye wandering). It was her third in four pregnancies (Ashley-Kings, p. 634). Her position still seemed to be strong when the Imperial ambassador met Henry and Anne on April 18. But on April 24, a judicial commision was appointed. A new parliament was quickly summoned. On April 30, a musician was questioned and, possibly under torture, confessed to adultery with Anne. Within two days, Anne and others were under arrest. On May 12, several of her co-defendents were found guilty of treason. On May 17, the marriage of Henry and Anne was dissolved. She was executed on May 19 (Loach, p. 2).
Loach apparently thinks that Henry believed that she was guilty of *something*. The evidence strikes me as weak. Even if one is Dick Cheney and thinks that people tell the truth under torture, recall that Anne had miscarried. That makes it extremely likely that the father of that child was Henry, not some near-anonymous musician. (Another place where DNA testing would help us, since we could learn what Henry's problem was.)
In any case, Henry once again had a New Cookie in the wings. Eleven days after Anne's death, Henry married Jane Seymour (Ashley-Kings, p. 634; Loach, p. 2), who bore him Edward VI and promptly died (for this, see the notes to "The Death of Queen Jane" [Child 170]. Ashley-Kings, p. 636, makes the interesting point that, though Henry married three more times, he chose to be buried by Jane Seymour. One can only hope she wasn't stuck with him next to her for all eternity).
WIth both Henry's daughters declared illegitimate, "All depended... on the delicate but precocious Prince Edward" (Halliday, p. 90); the boy of course would die six years after his father, truly causing chaos.
It is ironic that, when Henry VIII made his will, he in effect changed his mind and declared Catherine of Aragon his legitimate wife, since he put Mary as #2 in line for the throne behind Edward VI (OxfordCompanion, p. 176). Elizabeth was also made legitimate again -- something which, logically, made no sense at all. According to Ashley-Kings, p. 636, this happened in 1543 (Bryant, p. 50, dates the relevant act of parliament to 1544), helped along by the kindness and maturity of Henry's final wife, Catherine Parr.
The Princess Elizabeth, born in 1533, had had Archbishop Cranmer as her godfather when she was born, but within three years was declared illegitimate (Bryant, p. 50). She was shoved off into poor country homes for the next eight years; Bryant says that her half-sister Mary was also there, but clearly there was no love lost between the sisters; Mary, when she became Queen, kept Elizabeth under close watch and had her regularly questions (Bryant, pp. 50-51). Bryant wonders whether Elizabeth would have survived had it not been that she was the only entry Mary (other than Mary herself) had in the international marriage alliance market.
This un-royal upbringing may actually have been helpful, since it allowed Elizabeth to have a relatively good understanding of the common people (Bryant, pp. 52-53, though he actually thinks it is Anne Boleyn's genes that is responsible. The absurdity of this is shown by the fact that Henry VII's grandfather was more common than anyone in Anne Boleyn's line, but Henry VII had no more use for the common people than he had for open government.)
The whole succession mess would result, after Edward's death, in the sad phenomenon of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days' Queen. She wasn't really Edward's heir under any reckoning (she was decended from Henry VII's second daughter Mary, making her junior not only to Henry VIII's children but to the royal family of Scotland, descended from Henry VII's older daughter Margaret), but she was safely Protestant (unlike Mary Tudor), clearly legitimate (unlike Elizabeth) and not a Scot (Mary Queen of Scots was doubly disadvantaged in this regard: She was both Scottish and Catholic; Halliday, p. 93). So the Duke of Northumberland, the power behind the throne at the end of Edward VI's reign, married his son to Lady Jane and put her on the throne. It might have worked had Edward lasted longer (Bryant, p. 47), but Northumberland hadn't have enough time to rearrange teh succession before the boy king died of tuberculosis (or something).
The result was that Northumberland was overthrown and executed in 1553, and Jane (who apparently didn't want the throne anyway) quickly deposed; she and her husband were executed the next year (Delderfield, p. 70) after another conspiracy arose on her behalf, this time by her father rather than her husband's (Ashley-Kings, p. 638); Mary might have pardoned her again, but she refused to give up Protestantism.. And, in the end, the line of Henry VIII went extinct; Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I all died childless, and the throne passed to the Stuarts of Scotland, descendents of Margaret Tudor via Mary Queen of Scots.
It is equally ironic that Edward, the child of Jane Seymour, was remembered mostly for dying youong, and Mary, the child of Catherine of Aragon, was remembered as the despot who killed martyrs and lost Calais -- but Elizabeth, the child of Anne Boleyn, became Gloriana.
Henry himself had, if anything, even worse luck with his latter wives than his earlier. He contracted marriage with Anne of Cleves (wife #4) in an attempt to cement relations with the German Lutherans at a time when war with France seemed likely (Ashley-GB, pp. 227-228). But he agreed to themarriage having seen only her portrait, not her. The alliance proved unneccessary, and Henry didn't like her looks; they never slept together, and the marriage was declared not to have taken place. Henry went to war with France in the 1540s, with the usual result: A lot of expense and zero reward except a temporary occupation of Boulougne.
Next Henry took up with Catherine Howard, who was a third of his age. As with Anne, he ended up charging her with adultery -- but, in her case, it seems to have been true; she preferred younger men to her obese, ancient, brutal husband. So he executed her on the grounds that for the King's wife to engage in adultery was treason.
Finally Henry married Catherine Parr -- an ironic marriage, since he had been claiming that a King's wife had to be a virgin, but Catherine was a middle-aged widow. This was about as close as Henry ever came to a happy marriage -- she was far more civilized than he, and was a good stepmother to his children, and even seems to have calmed him down a little. But the honest bottom line is, Henry's dynasty is extinct, and although the Reformation is a plus (even a Catholic must admit that the Counter-Reformation was good), and the increase in the role of parliament a clear positive, his wars were disasters, he oppressed his people and ruined the economy and killed many good people unjustly. Elizabeth's reign was great and glorious -- but much of her triumph was, in fact, to clean up the mess (religious, financial, and diplomatic) left by her father. - RBW
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