08 March 2013

Jane Seymour: The Pheonix as Queen Part 1

Many blamed Jane's death on her attendants
Jane endured a days long excruciating labour 
Death claims Queen Jane

Jane Seymour would be the only wife of six to fulfil the wishes of King Henry VIII; this fulfilment would claim her life.

Queen Jane's marriage to Great Harry was, at least to the king, a new and fresh beginning. All things would be new, the past (and Anne Boleyn with it,) would be swept away, put away, never to be spoken of again.  However, the new marriage was in fact built on tragedy.
Jane made every attempt to restructure her new staff and household. Though Jane has been viewed historically as somewhat of a Milquetoast, an almost wimpy sort of woman, she was rather formidable. Queen Jane was serious, austere, not given to frivolity. She may also have harboured a darker note to her personality, as Jane's possible involvement in Anne Boleyn's downfall has never been clear. In any case, Jane and Henry wanted to establish an altogether new and unified household.

The mood of the English people was a mixed one. While Anne Boleyn had been a deeply hated queen, her horrifying death had a profound effect on some her most determined detractors.  Most of Henry's subjects believed that the queen was guilty of something, probably adultery.  Few were convinced Anne was actually guilty of the uglier charges involving George Boleyn. Anne's supposed guilt not withstanding, many of the English people were aghast when they learned of the nightly junkets Henry was conducting with the objective of courting Jane even whilst his wife was facing a terrifying fate, in the tower.  It simply was bad form, and understandably, Henry and Jane's premature celebrations and festive planning left a bad taste in the mouths of the English people, who were at bottom a very traditional sort. Once the poor queen was dispatched, it was disturbing that she was not yet cold in the arrow chest that served as her makeshift coffin before Henry and Jane were merrily moving on with their nuptials.  Anne's death had rocked all of Europe, not just England, and to his subjects Henry seemed coldly unaffected.

As planned, Henry and his new queen moved on with their lives and attempted to blot out any physical evidence that Anne Boleyn had ever existed. Anne's motto, wall hangings, embroidered textiles, and whatnot were all destroyed or hidden. ( In haste, some of these were overlooked.) Despite all these efforts, there remained one living piece of evidence of the former existence of the dark haired queen with the French mannerisms. And that was the little girl with the striking Tudor-red hair, Princess Elizabeth.  Of course she was no longer known as a princess, and was now branded a bastard. While Henry and Jane couldn't erase Elizabeth, they did their best, at least for a while to continue to avoid the whole issue of Anne Boleyn by ignoring her innocent child. And so Elizabeth remained hidden away from Henry's eyes; she would be Lady Bryant's problem for the time being.

Henry was determined to resume the all-important business of getting that male heir; it seemed that the world hinged on Jane fulfilling her duty. Would she fail as Catherine and Anne had, leaving a series of miscarriages and dead infants? Would she be able to conceive at all?  It was assumed that Jane Seymour would give Henry the male child he so longed for as her womenfolk were known as good breeders. To modern eyes, the term 'breeder' seems distasteful.  The Tudors had a rather different take on breeding, and all it implied. The woman who bore sons by her husband was most appreciated, while only presenting daughters often had the opposite effect.

Henry and Jane had scarcely been married for days when the king was wondering aloud if Jane would soon present her subjects with a prince. Henry's courtiers were busy bestowing on Jane every honour, and if their hearts were truly sincere in their praise of the new queen or not, they were careful to show her every courtesy. Contrary to her apparent disinterest in little Elizabeth, Jane was very affectionate toward Mary. Henry was still frostily inclined toward his eldest daughter, and Jane bravely took up for the stubborn young woman. Jane would learn a quick lesson, however, that facing off against Henry even if the cause was for his very own daughter, was a dangerous practice.  And Jane adjusted herself accordingly.

The new marrieds made every attempt to present an impressive and united front in the presence of the courtiers. But pesky problems, new and old threatened to mar the happiness of Henry and Jane.  Henry's leg with its festering wounds was again troubling him, and he remained more than a little angry with Lady Mary for the years of resistance she had shown her father. Jane wanted Henry to show his difficult daughter mercy; Henry wanted Jane to mind her own business where his daughter was concerned. Why Jane was less interested in poor Elizabeth, and yet so maternal toward Mary was likely due to their respective mothers. Jane was a long time admirer, and former lady of Catherine of Aragon. The character of Henry's first wife was just the sort that Jane subscribed to.  Jane was probably not as benevolent as Catherine of Aragon had been, and perhaps much more self-involved. But the two queens were bound by a shared faith, and Jane seemed to hold Catherine's memory dear and expressed that in kindness toward her surviving daughter, the Lady Mary. Of course, there had been no such warm feelings for the fallen Anne Boleyn, and by extension no feelings of charity for the little daughter that Anne had left behind. Little Elizabeth's situation quickly grew so unfortunate that Lady Bryant was reduced to writing begging letters to Cromwell.

The business of clothing oneself was difficult in Tudor days. Obtaining fabric and then sewing the garments, or finding someone to do that was not at all easy, unless one was rich or of the nobility. Elizabeth was, technically a princess, but she was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, and for a time following her mother's execution, she was an unlucky little girl indeed. What a stark contrast it must have been, for whilst Anne Boleyn had lived, she had seen to it that her daughter was always dressed splendidly. Princess Elizabeth and once worn rich velvets and caps made from cloth of gold. Anne Boleyn had spared no expense where her red-haired baby was concerned, and though she could not see her child very often, she expressed her love and affection by making constant gifts of clothing for the princess.

Jane must have felt wonderfully fortuitous when she discovered she was pregnant with Henry's child. It was generally expected that the royal parents would be blessed with a prince. And a prince it was, as Jane would soon deliver Edward to her subjects. Henry felt exceptionally lucky and mirthful. Queen Jane's pregnancy seemed almost a sign to Henry, that he had done well to send Anne to the scaffold.  Even though Anne's guilt had been so doubtful and uncertain, Henry felt a renewed confidence given Jane's happy condition. To the king, Jane was his very own angel, sent from above. More than ever, Jane represented a brand new start. Different from Anne in every way, Jane must have seemed like a comfortable and familiar sort of woman. It may have seemed that Jane was like the young Catherine of Aragon all over again, all womanly gentleness, submissive and sweet.

It may have been, however, that Jane was not as different from Anne Boleyn as was assumed.  Perhaps Jane was made of the same steely determination as had been the stuff of Anne Boleyn. But a careful watching and learning had left Jane well-prepared to deal successfully with her arbitrary and difficult husband. Jane had effectively employed the demure virginal appearance that she knew would work so well with Henry. Once married she became the submissive wife Henry had appreciated in his wife, Catherine. Jane had the benefit of an excellent education watching her previous two mistresses' experiences with her husband and she applied those lessons perfectly. Jane avoided Anne's sexy, seductive mannerisms that had so enchanted Henry in the early years of their relationship. Jane had seen these same French inspired flirtations backfire in the later year. Anne's exotic style of coquetry is  probably is what caused Henry to exclaim that Anne had been "corrupted in France." Jane was extreme opposite of Anne even in physical appearance. Anne had been of a swarthy complexion, almost always described as more sexy than beautiful. Tall in stature, rather lacking in womanly curves, most agreed her black eyes and shimmering dark hair had been Anne's best features. Most of her contemporaries found Anne just so, decidedly not beautiful or voluptuous, but but with strikingly attractive eyes and captivating mannerisms. Men said she knew how to "use her eyes." Anne can be compared to the type of woman, and most everyone knows just such a woman, that is not beautiful, at least in a classic sense, but so skilled in the art of conversation and bodily communication, making the most of one or two special features, that she is able to attract the attentions of some of the most eligible men. These types of woman often make most advantageous marriages, or may be mistresses to some of the world's most powerful, famous, or richest men. It seems Anne Boleyn was cut of that sort of fabric.

Though the two queens had the same objectives, Jane appeared to be the extreme opposite of Anne from her looks to her personality. Jane was exceedingly pale, so white in complexion that some of her contemporaries viewed her pallid skin as unattractive.  This was a time when pale complexions in women were prized and seen as beautiful. However, Jane Seymour was so pale she may have seemed of an unhealthy constitution to some. She had golden blonde hair, also highly prized in Tudor days. But for the rest, her facial features, and her physical build, Jane Seymour was viewed as quite plain. Jane's portraits reveal a lack lustre woman, not tall, somewhat thickly built, entirely forgettable looking. Perhaps even her plainness may have worked for Jane as she may have presented a safe image to Henry, who by that point would have been emotionally exhausted from years of highs and lows he had experienced with Anne Boleyn. Jane was so demure as to refuse a purse of money which Henry had dispatched to her parent's home as a gift to her. Henry couldn't have been more impressed with this virginal, virtuous young woman. Ironically, and conversely, Jane, as Anne had done before her, seemed to have no qualms about courting a married man. The man may have been king, and his wife lawfully detained in the lonely tower accused of unspeakable acts, but Anne was alive and married to Henry until he effectively had his marriage dissolved. Did it seem at all strange to Jane that her gain came from a woman who was in the process of being cruelly put to death? As Jane was not an extrovert as Anne Boleyn had been, and was in fact extremely quiet and seemingly restrained, much of her true feelings about her very complicated courtship and marriage would die with her.

Meanwhile, the state of affairs for the Lady Mary had improved considerably. Mary had been suffering from declining health for some years. She was still very young and her ill health was such that concern was growing for Mary. Her poor health seemed to stem from a combination of a naturally frail constitution and constant emotional turmoil, and melancholy. The king seemed affected by this, his anger finally subsiding. Jane and the king met with Mary on 6 July in Hackney. Mary and her father had been nearly estranged for six long years, and the meeting ended happily with gifts from Jane and Henry. Jane gave Mary a diamond ring; Henry gave his daughter a thousand crowns with which to spend as she liked. Mary's habitually dark mood soared and she sent a warm thank you letter to her father and Jane, referring to Jane as her own "natural mother." Mary also declared her wishes that the king and queen would soon be blessed with their own children. Certainly, the new blended family was off to a promising start. It was unfortunate that Anne Boleyn's little girl was not welcome, at least for the time being.  While Mary was enjoying her thousand crowns gift and her new diamond ring, Lady Bryant grew frustrated trying to secure funds to replace the most basic essentials of Elizabeth's wardrobe. It was nothing luxurious that Lady Bryant sought to dress the child in; she was pleading for help to replace items like underwear, sleeping gown and petticoats. It can only be imagined, what the small child Elizabeth must have been experiencing. From one day to the next, she had gone from a celebrated princess to a bastard. Though Elizabeth was barely past babyhood, there is documentation that proves she was aware that something very drastic had changed in her world.

Despite the mirth and high expectations felt at the beginning of Henry's new marriage, he began to brood over deep fears and insecurities. Henry was growing old and he was feeling it keenly. Jane was still not pregnant and old fears began to haunt the king. Could it be possible that once again Henry would be deeply disappointed? Would this marriage be a replay of the two before it? Considering all that had passed, that which had rocked his kingdom, it would have been unbearably humiliating for Henry if after all  Jane was unable to conceive  or bore stillbirths, like Catherine, or miscarriages, like Anne.

 It is rather strange that Henry seemed to make the same mistakes in his thinking, time and again. Once again he had been a bit too ambitious where Jane and her breeding abilities were concerned. Like Anne, Jane was past her optimal window for successful  childbearing, as in Tudor days, this window was small indeed. Anne's optimal years to have given her king a song were permanently lost in the whirlwind that resulted from Henry's Great Matter.  Once Anne had been finally been free to try at motherhood, (and actually she did not wait till she was legally married,) it was, after all, too late. Though she conceived Elizabeth, Anne was plagued with stillbirths and miscarriages as Catherine before her had been. And now Queen Jane was not becoming pregnant as quickly as Henry would have liked. The king was desperately aware of how little time he had to see his dream through of finally having a son. But Jane was in her late twenties, and once again we must consider how short average life expectancy was in the mid 16th century. Then, the age of thirty was solidly middle aged.

Christmastime was a true reunion for the new little family. Thanks to Mary's intervening on her little sister's behalf, Elizabeth was also included in the holiday festivities at court. Henry was in good spirits and was affectionate even with his youngest daughter. Onlookers saw a warm and traditional family unit with Henry, Jane, Mary and Elizabeth. The weather was bitterly cold, and the Thames froze solid. Despite the cruel cold, large numbers of people gathered to watch the royal family travel from Westminster into the city, which was decorated in an enormous amount of cloth of gold to give honour to the king and queen. There was a service at St. Paul's after which the Christmas celebrations began in earnest. It was a spectacular sight as then the king and queen road on horseback, flying across the frozen river to the Surrey shore. The royal family spent the holiday at Greenwich Palace, where a stunning Yuletide court had been prepared. Festivities continued into New Year's Day, when gifts were exchanged, with Mary especially, receiving very costly gives from her father and step-mother. All was not perfect, however, and the religious wars and strife raged on.

Robert Aske was a particularly troubling case. Aske and his followers had been promised by the king that the dissolution of the monasteries would be stopped, along with the heavy taxes. But King Henry VIII had always been arbitrary at best, and worse would follow. Outraged, Aske's rebels rebanded, and in response Henry sent the Duke of Norfolk to Linconshire to teach the rebels a dreadful lesson. The cruel Duke of Norfolk had numerous men hung as traitors, and then left their bodies to rot on gibbets for months. This was typical of the age, leaving the condemned on display to remind others to avoid their terrible fates and to put all treasonous thoughts out of mind. Aske was captured in July and died a most dreadful death in chains. This had been the most severe and grim incident in Henry's reign.  The king was more than ready for some good news when his Jane announced that she carried his heir, in the spring of 1537.

The king and queen were exultant when in early April, it was announced that Jane was with child. And for a few days it must have been a heady time of giddiness for the royal couple and court. It was a merry spring, indeed, and gifts for the new baby were being prepared and sent to the queen. At Hampton Court in May, it was announced that Jane had felt the child move. Te Deums were sung in churches to celebrate the quickening. Bonfires were lit and citizens were treated to quantities of wine. Jane was indulging her love of quails eggs, and though these were out of season and difficult to obtain, her king made sure she was kept in good supply of the delicacy she so craved. Often Lady Mary and Lord and Lady Lisle were the givers of the quails eggs; it seemed Queen Jane couldn't eat enough of them. (Lady Lisle wasn't merely treating Jane to quails eggs; she was in effect helping herself. Lady Lisle would then ask Queen Jane to secure a place in her household for one of her daughters, Katherine and Anne Bassett.)

Despite all the merriment, and pampering of the queen, a feeling of fear and dread began to gnaw at Jane.  The queen developed a strong phobia of the plague. This was not entirely irrational as plague was a real and ever present threat. Henry was obsessively and unusually compulsive about cleanliness, especially given the time he lived in. A move was even made to Windsor to stay ahead of the plague. But despite these measures, and every precaution taken for Jane's safety, her fears would not be allayed.

Sadly, death was stalking Jane Seymour.  However, it was not the plague which would claim the queen's life.

24 February 2013

The Six Wives Of Henry VIII Catherine of Aragon part 1

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970,) starring Keith Michelle as Henry, is one of my absolute favorite renditions of the story of the Tudors. What the series lacks in glitz and expensive sets is more than made up for in its realism and historical accuracy.

The 1970 production is six part story of the personal experiences of each of Henry's six queens. The series begins with the a young Catherine of Aragon, played by the beautiful Annette Crosbie, who simply becomes Catherine.  This segment is very interesting as it also plays out the strange years that Catherine lived after Arthur's deathTechnically she was engaged to Prince Henry. But in truth, Catherine was trapped in a confusing sort of Limbo.  Unfortunately for the young Spanish princess, her own father was cold and parsimonious. She was doubly unfortunate in that King Henry VII was every bit as stingy and Scrooge-like as King Ferdinand. Ultimately the power and money struggle between the two monarchs over the poor unwanted young widow would cause Catherine no small amount of suffering.

Catherine must have felt utterly miserable, and very insecure considering how uncertain her position had become. Catherine was actually experiencing hunger, so meager were the provisions made for her and her skeleton staff. She was dressed very poorly, but that was likely far less painful than the humiliation of buying stale (thus reduced) seafood from the market in order to keep herself and her ladies somewhat fed. As the widow of Prince Authur, and now supposedly the betrothed of Prince Henry, her place should have been rather straightforward. Catherine should have been generously and securely cared for. (That the Dowager Princess and future Queen of England should have endured such penury is shameful and attests to the severity with which some monarchs in the Tudor age dealt with even those of their own household.)  But her place at court was anything but certain, and Catherine was growing depressed and desperate. Only in her twenties, the young Spanish princess must have felt many years older than her true age. Indeed, from that point hence, Catherine was notably older than her years both mentally and physically. In fact those lost years in England might have been some sort of a foretelling of the exceedingly painful life Catherine would lead.  Catherine was lonely, having only her tiny staff, and not every member of which were entirely trustworthy. Catherine's duenna, the formidable Dona Elvira seems to have been one such double minded individual, and there was no telling where Elvira's true loyalty lied. The princess' family was far away in Spain, and besides, they certainly had their own troubles. Catherine's sister, Juana, in whom she may have at least had a confidante, albeit one constrained by letters, had her own difficulties. Juana's problems would deteriorate into horrors, and she would eventually be known as Juana la Loca (Joan the Mad.)  Considering that this was an age where poisoning was not unheard of, the horrid possibility that some hired shadow figure might rid England of a girl who had become an inconvenience likely crossed Catherine's mind at some point. The fearful dread such a thought would have caused can only be imagined.

Perhaps it was providence when the old king died, leaving Henry as king and free to move ahead as he liked. And Henry liked Catherine quite well.  From most any contemporary source, Catherine was a gentle, intelligent woman, and most easy on the eyes. Though she was no longer the rosy cherubic child who had come to England years previous to marry Arthur, she was still a very comely woman. Catherine was graced with a voluptuous figure, (thought to be ideal for childbearing in the thinking of the age,) with almond shaped blue eyes, and her crowning feature was a cascade of rose gold waves. She was some years older than her betrothed, but Henry was quite taken with his late brother's wife and was proud to be her husband. The King was eager to begin the business of marriage and family and looked forward to siring a bounty of strong handsome sons with his lovely new wife. Catherine couldn't have wanted to provide his majesty with male heirs any less than he wished for this. The future looked bright to the young royal marrieds, and they surely expected that the years would bring them a brood of healthy children, most importantly--male children.  Catherine was usually submissive to Henry, and she deferred to her husband almost without exception.

(Surely Henry was remembering Catherine's quiet servitude toward him when he would later shout at Anne Boleyn to shut her eyes as her betters had done, when she had the temerity to refuse to ignore his infidelities.)

In hindsight we see that actual history looks nothing like that which Catherine and Henry envisioned all those many years ago. And so it is with most people, royal or not.

19 January 2013

The Birth of Elizabeth I

Chaste Women in a Landscape, 1480's
by Gherardo di Giovanni del Fora
Pregnancy and childbirth has been a natural and extremely important component of the lives of every human being who has ever lived. However, until relatively recent history, childbirth held a particular kind of importance, (if not terror,) especially for the woman who was to give birth. The Tudor period was exceptionally dangerous for mothers and their infants. Medical care was of little true value, and its practices ranged from futile to dangerous. For example, the practice of persistently bleeding a patient for seemingly any malady from depression to fever, caused or at least contributed to the deaths of countless people in this time frame. Superstition abounded, and pregnant women often relied on bizarre folk tales and remedies.

There can be little doubt that Anne Boleyn, like any expectant mother of her day, would have had deep concerns and perhaps fears as the days approached her expected delivery date. To add to her anxiety, Anne had a special worry. Though she seemed confident enough, and even boasted publicly, Anne might have harboured a secret fear. Would the child in her belly be a boy?

The importance of the gender of her awaited child cannot be underestimated. By time of the birth of Elizabeth, Henry had lost some of his ardent infatuation with Anne Boleyn. Finally married, new tensions and dynamics were arising in Anne and Henry's relationship. The king was now using a different tone with his queen. Worse, during the later months of Anne's pregnancy, Henry had a brief affair. It seems that much of the court knew about the affair, with some of Henry's men having actively promoted it to spite the hated new queen. Anne was openly jealous, and Henry found it very annoying. Catherine had only rarely opposed him, and Henry was unacquainted with such aggression in a queen--especially his queen. What he may have viewed as an attractive feisty edge when Anne was his sweetheart, was now viewed as shrewish behaviour coming from his wife. Anne had lost the allure of having been the unattainable sweetheart. Now, as the two settled into the daily monotony of marriage, Henry's feelings toward his new queen were changing. Expectations were changing. Henry was not young and idealistic, as he had been the first time around with Catherine, a whole lifetime ahead of him. Henry was in his 40's, and knew from experience how small the window actually was in which healthy pregnancy and childbirth were most likely. Henry knew that only a few years existed in this window, and that time was of the essence. To add to the mix, there were also endless miseries between Henry and Anne and the Lady Mary. Henry demanded that Mary show the respect due his wife, and his daughter flatly refused him. Mary was simmering with resentment toward Anne especially. Initially, Anne had made a few attempts to invite Mary to court, if she was willing to demonstrate a satisfactory level of respect due Anne as queen. 

"I know of no other Queen of England, save my mother. "
--Mary Tudor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Mary gave her now-famous response that she knew of no other queen than her mother. Henceforth, Anne would nurse a vengeful hatred toward her stepdaughter, and the feeling was mutual.

Still, even with other problems settling into the new marriage, Anne's first pregnancy was mostly a time of elation for the couple. It seemed that love was rekindled while Anne and Henry awaited the birth of their first child. It was a time of gaiety, and happy planning. Anne was given sumptuous accommodations, and a very valuable bed was presented for her delivery. However--Henry was expecting a son. And thus, his euphoria was not simply based on Anne's pregnancy. What really mattered was that Anne would present Henry with a son. Finally having the woman he had once been deliriously in love with was not nearly enough by that point.  Anne had promised Henry during their courtship that she would be the mother of a prince, preferably princes, and not merely a "useless daughter,"as Catherine of Aragon had been. (Catherine had given birth to a baby boy; he would only live for a few weeks.)

It is perplexing as to why Anne was so certain that she would give her king sons. Almost since the inception of their relationship, Anne had carried herself with a haughtiness that is quite astonishing. Astonishing in the fact that for all the love and attention Henry showered on his sweetheart, he was still married. And most of his subjects would not forget for a second that their king was still married to their beloved queen, while carrying on an open affair with Anne Boleyn. Catherine had come to England as a rosy adorable youth, and the English people had fallen in love with the petite smiling girl. Her years as queen had only increased the love and loyalty the English people held for Catherine. Many of Henry's subjects were infuriated with his rejection of their queen, and many were surprisingly bold about their feelings. Though the king would severely punish some of those who openly opposed him, the hatred directed toward Anne took its toll on the couple. Anne had been so outspoken in her response, (perhaps hurt,) she had adopted an stunning new motto, which she displayed Christmas 1530.  Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne translated to:  That is how it is going to be, however much people may grumble. It was a provocative slogan, and it did little to warm the people toward the new queen. The new motto and attitude was the polar opposite of Catherine's presentation of humble submission. (Of course Catherine was not always humble, nor submissive, but she did defer to Henry when and wherever possible.)  The disparity between the two queens was not lost on the English people, and it inflamed their dislike of Anne Boleyn.

Though Anne had often flaunted a proud, and sometimes outrageous attitude, motherhood was an entirely different and new frontier for her. And surely the intelligent queen must have known that simply willing her body to produce a son was not a sure way to achieve the hoped for result. And yet Anne did carry on as though she knew she carried a prince in her belly. Had she thought that following the advice and rituals of divining women would give her the desired outcome? Perhaps she believed that she would be the 'blessed' queen, and as her reward Anne would be the mother of the king's son. Even Henry's former mistress Bessie Blount was given a good degree of honour and reward for delivering a son. Henry Fitzroy was only a bastard, but he was a boy. Bessie Blount would have received no such special privileges, such as her new title as Mother of the King's Son, if she had borne a daughter.

The diviners and astrologers who visited the king and queen assured them that Anne carried a son. Whether they were sincere in their predictions, or just behaving like any other sycophant who wanted to flatter the king is impossible to say. Henry's own expensive personal physicians had also assured him that Anne carried a prince. It does seem that Henry was confidant his second queen would give him the son he had waited for all those years. Perhaps he could not abide even the thought that Anne would give him a another daughter.  A son would be a wonderful reward for the miserable years of battle with Catherine and the church, over the divorce. It would have made up for all the frustrating years of delays before Henry and Anne could be married. Yes, a boy would have made all the difference in the world as far as the king was concerned.

On 26 August Anne entered her time of confinement. On 7 September 1533 Anne's labour pains began. One attendant reported that the labour and delivery had been an extremely painful one.  But at the end of it, Anne gave birth to a healthy baby. The child with the signature Tudor red locks was born at three o'clock in the afternoon. The new royal child was said to be beautiful. But it was not the son promised by the astrologers, diviners and physicians. Anne's new baby was a girl. Henry was the father of a second daughter.

Anne was very disappointed; Henry was angry. The mood of the birthing chamber can only be imagined. Finally, the king would pay his queen and new daughter a visit. Henry commented that they were both still "young," and that "boys would follow." Actually, both comments were overly ambitious, and in time would prove to be entirely incorrect. Henry was certainly not "young," at that point. And relative to the age she lived in, Anne was no longer what could be described as youthful. Tudor lifespans were short; and a woman in her 30's was considered past the bloom of youth. The marriage had been postponed for years, and unfortunately Anne was past the optimal age for childbearing. This would be proven, for after Elizabeth's birth, Anne would never deliver a viable child again.

Though Princess Elizabeth was given a beautiful Christening, and the king did warm up to Anne again sometime after the birth, the disappointment in the birth seems to have left a permanent tear in the fabric of the relationship. Elizabeth's birth was perhaps the beginning of the end of her parent's marriage.

09 January 2013

Out Goes Anne: In Comes Jane

As human beings will reap what they sow, all too often they find themselves in the same cold place that they have caused another to exist in.

Such was the case of Anne Boleyn.

When the tide began to turn against Anne Boleyn, it must have seemed to her that only a short time had passed from that when she was the object of Henry's adoration. Anne had been the young sweetheart, full of promise, contrasting Henry's unwanted wife. Now it was Anne that stood in that unenviable position; now she was the rejected wife, desperately clinging to her husband. Anne had aged visibly in her remaining last years, and was now described by Eustace Chapuys as a "thin and old" creature. And just like Catherine, Anne had been unable to give Henry the sons she had promised him. She had borne her husband a girl, one who would one day become Gloriana*, but in those bleak days, and in Henry's eyes especially, Anne had given him a useless girl. The idea of a 'useless girl,' is most detestable. However, the Tudor monarchs viewed the birth of a daughter almost as a punishment. Pity the poor royal wife who proved unable to provide male heirs. The woman bore full blame for this failing, as though she had knowingly and willingly chosen to withhold sons from her husband.

Anne was now walking in Catherine's old shoes, and finding the experience to be most miserable. Far from her days as the Most Happy, Anne was living in a state of misery and dread. Anne had been cruel and gloating toward Queen Catherine, and had been exceptionally unkind to Mary. Still, it is difficult to withhold sympathy from Anne Boleyn, as her sufferings were so marked.

Jane Seymour was now the king's sweetheart, the fresh new damsel that Henry was basing his hopes upon. She also served as one of Anne's ladies in waiting, and Jane's daily presence must have been excruciating for Anne.

Despite Anne's previous guilt and malice toward Catherine and her daughter, it didn't stop her from reacting with uncontrolled fury when Jane Seymour began to take her place. There is the famous story that Anne had ripped a locket from Jane's neck with such force that it sliced through her own fingers. Whether that report is true or not, Jane Dormer said there were frequent outbursts of physical violence "between the queen and her maid." Shockingly, Anne had frequently struck and/or scratched Jane. If this is true, Anne had sunk to a low point, indeed. (Interestingly, her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, often resorted to vicious physical violence when one of her ladies angered her enough.) Given Anne's well-documented propensity for aggressive arguing, and how she managed to occasionally alienate her own blood relatives, the idea that she physically battered a woman who was actively courting her own husband may not be so hard to believe.

Historically, Jane has been portrayed as a passive paragon of womanly virtue. The bare facts, however, somewhat collide with that popular view of Henry's third queen.

Jane Seymour was known as an upright sort of woman. And the lady was quite proud of her 'goodly reputation,' and pointed it out, albeit in a clever way, when she modestly refused a purse of money the king tried to give her while they were courting. At least, this is how Jane was perceived, as a good woman, before her involvement with King Henry. She did not have the propensity for arguing, nor did she possess the foul temper that Anne Boleyn was noted for. Still, it must be remembered that Jane was actively involved with a still-very-married-man. Moreover, she was likely complicit in the horrifying downfall of Anne Boleyn. Chapuys, who had never been a fan of Anne Boleyn, and would have been more objective, described Jane Seymour as being very haughty. At the very least, Jane Seymour watched with a chilling passivity as her mistress inched closer and closer to the scaffold. Soon Anne would die, dispatched by a hired Calais swordsman. Anne's body would have hardly been cold in an arrow chest when Jane took up her place as queen. Henry's new love stepped right into Anne's place with scarcely a glance behind her. It seems that as soon as Henry heard the sound of the Tower guns marking the end of Anne's life, he and Jane proceeded with their new lives together as though Anne had never existed. Little Elizabeth was all but entirely forgotten. Lady Bryant was forced to practically beg Cromwell for funds to pay for a desperately needed new wardrobe for the little girl. But now that Elizabeth was branded a bastard, as Mary had been before her, her clothing was of little importance to the king. Elizabeth was almost hidden away, apparently out of sight--out of mind. Given what we know about Henry, his callousness is hardly surprising. It is Jane, as former mistress to Anne Boleyn, and a woman, that might give one pause.

Henry's court seemed to rejoice and believe that the good old days had returned, (or at least they pretended to). Privately though, many of Henry's subjects were appalled at how quickly Anne had been erased, and by the haste of the king's  marriage to Jane Seymour.

But any hope of the golden days, if they had ever been such, was not to be realized. Though the king's new queen would conceive a child, dark clouds were looming over the kingdom. There were the ever-present political and religious problems, and of special concern was the plague. The plague was posing a horrible threat to the English people, and Queen Jane was developing a awful phobia of the dreaded sickness. Every precaution was taken but nothing seemed to calm Jane's fears of the plague.

Was it only the plague that was tormenting Jane, or was she afraid of more than that? Were the memories of her former mistress, and the manner of her cruel death haunting the new queen? Was Jane afraid of the age-old fear of dying in childbirth?

Tragically, Queen Jane's worst fears would be realised. For soon she would follow her former mistress, Anne Boleyn, to the grave.

*Elizabeth I would be called "Gloriana" by many of her subjects, as a term of endearment, respect and admiration.

08 January 2013

Mary Boleyn's Mysterious Relationship with Henry VIII

Mary Boleyn--Sister of Anne Boleyn Queen of England

I've often wondered what the relationship between Mary and Anne Boleyn was like. These were two sisters, close in age, and both seriously involved with a king, though not at the same time, (fortunately.)  For wouldn't such a tangled web create dramatic problems between two sisters!

And yet the two sisters each had shared a part of King Henry's life.  Of course Anne was Henry's queen, mother to Elizabeth I.  However, historians are not in agreement about Mary's exact relationship with Henry. She was a long term mistress. But Mary Boleyn may have been more than a mistress--she may have been mother to one, or even two of Henry's children. Were Catherine and Henry Carey the biological children of Henry VIII? Some historians believe this is unlikely; others believe the Carey children were in fact sired by the great king.  Although it is a fascinating possibility, making a true determination of the parentage of the Carey children is difficult, to say the least. There is evidence which leads to opposite answers. Elizabeth favoured the Boleyn Family in looks, though not in colouring. Anne Boleyn's daughter had the fiery red hair of the Tudors. The colouring of the Carey children could suggest Tudor blood, but like Elizabeth, they  too favoured their Boleyn ancestry. In fact, Elizabeth looked as though she could have been a full blooded sibling of the Carey children. Those had been strong genes, the traits that were carried by the Boleyn Family.

Back to Anne and Mary's relationship as sisters--they had not been close in later years. Did this have anything to do with Mary's previous involvement with the king? My thought is that this later distancing between the sisters was related to Mary's previous position as mistress to Anne's husband. That would cause at least a temporary rift between the closest of sisters, no doubt. And if Mary had borne the king's children, or child, there would be added complexities to an already delicate situation. For many different reasons, it would have been to Anne Boleyn's benefit to distance herself from Mary Boleyn and her children. A sad thing to consider, but probably one that Anne found positively necessary considering the bizarre triangle formed by herself, Mary and Henry.

 George Boleyn seems to have favoured Anne over Mary, with George and Anne very close in the years before their deaths. Perhaps George and Anne had never been close to Mary.

Mary's first husband, William Carey, was a favourite at court. He was a member of the King's Privy Chamber, an Esquire of the Body to the King. Carey was an important man at court, and a rather handsome one at that. Of course, Mary would not have chosen William, even if he had been the husband she had hoped for. The match would have been arranged between the parents of the couple.  And there seems to be evidence that the king approved, as he was in attendance at the wedding. This may be an ironic footnote, as Mary was later to become his mistress.

By the beginning of the involvement between Henry and Mary, Queen Catherine was prematurely aged, and had gained a significant amount of weight. François I cruelly famously described Catherine as "old and deformed." As well as being extremely distasteful, Francis' comments were very unfair. Catherine was ahead of Henry in age, by over half a decade, and her body had taken a beating. To add to the disparity, Catherine was old for her age, physically and emotionally. At this point in his life, Henry was the opposite, vibrantly healthy, almost supernaturally strong. Catherine had never enjoyed very good health, and over the years she had been pregnant time and again, exacerbating her frail constitution. Though perpetually pregnant, save for Mary, these all ended in disappointment. The queen tended to have miscarriages, stillbirths, or weak infants that would not survive for long.  Catherine had also endured many painful hardships. She was widowed very young, then virtually stranded in a foreign country with an uncertain future. And though Catherine was finally married to Henry who she loved dearly, he had caused her not a few heartaches. If Catherine was looking worse for the wear, it can hardly be surprising.

Though Mary was Henry's mistress for what seems to be a fairly significant period, she would never make much of an impression on the English court. Mary simply did not have the verve, charisma, the enchanting dynamic to her person that her sister, Anne would have. Mary may have been beautiful, and the likelihood is that she was. As king, and at the time a young and very handsome king, Henry would have had his pick of many beautiful women. Henry had Elizabeth Blount as his mistress, and by him she had borne Henry's son, Henry Fitzroy. Elizabeth Blount was generally regarded as a stunning beauty by the male courtiers. Not only was Blount gorgeous, she was graced with talent and charm to spare. That relationship had lasted at least four years. Given these factors, it would probably take an exceptional beauty to engage King Henry, and Mary likely fit the part. However beautiful she may have been, Mary lacked Anne's dazzling feminine mystique. In fact, it seems that once Anne made her grand début at the English court, and in Henry's heart, she would leave the memory of Mary in the dust. 

If Mary's children were in fact Henry's children, it was still not enough ,apparently, to even approach Anne's effect on Henry. And of course, Mary Boleyn was married. It is likely that Mary did not expect much from her time as mistress, and it seems she was right to assume the relationship would fade into nothingness.

Information on Mary Boleyn is rather scarce.  If you would like to read more about this elusive Tudor lady, I highly recommend two fine works for you:

  Wilkinson, Josephine: Mary Boleyn (Stroud, 2009).
Weir, Alison: Mary Boleyn (Ballantine Books, 2011).

Both books are non-fiction biographies on Mary Boleyn,  exhaustively researched, and absolutely fascinating!

William Carey--First husband of Mary Boleyn
Henry Carey--Son of Mary Boleyn
Catherine Carey--Daughter of Mary Boleyn

07 January 2013

Catherine of Aragon Dies: 7 January 1536

On this day 7 January 1536, Catherine of Aragon Queen of England would die, and pass into eternity. She was the first queen of King Henry VIII, and the mother of Queen Mary I of England. Queen Catherine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.

 Even as her earthly life left her, minute by minute, Catherine was thinking of the man she still considered to be her husband. Catherine gave Henry her full forgiveness for all the agony he had inflicted on her, and prayed for him. She worried for Henry's spiritual well-being even as her death was imminent.  Henry had inflicted emotional torment on Catherine for years by the time of her death, and his treatment of the wife of his youth had shocked the world. Catherine had been separated from her only living child, Mary, for several years prior to her death. This caused the queen untold anguish.  Never having enjoyed very good health, there is little doubt that Catherine's sufferings contributed to her early death. Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle. Kimbolton was a desolate place, a cold, unhealthy habitation far from those she loved most. And those Catherine loved most had been, and would always be her husband Henry, and her adored daughter Mary.

After Catherine's death, some feared she might have been poisoned at the command of Anne Boleyn. Catherine's attendants reported that she drank a large draft of Welsh beer and had declined almost immediately after consuming the drink. Poisoning is extremely unlikely, and largely dismissed by most historians.

Catherine had been sick a long time prior to her death at Kimbolton. Initially, her last illness was not a cause for any unusual concern. Chapuys had been worried about Catherine's health, but her doctor reported that she was relatively stable.  However, on 29 December the same doctor would send Chapuys a frightening message: Catherine had relapsed and Chapuys should head for Kimbolton as soon as possible. Henry again declined a begging request from Chapuys to allow Mary to visit her mother. Upon his arrival, Chapuys would find Maria de Salinas, one of Catherine's oldest and most dearest friends, at Catherine's bedside. She had devised a method of visiting the queen. Maria de Salinas (Lady Willoughby) was determined to be with her former mistress in her time of sickness. Maria would find Catherine desperately ill. Catherine was in an extremely weak state, and had been unable to eat or drink for days. Maria provided comfort and loving care to the queen, and Catherine's health would improve somewhat, though very briefly. After a few days, Chapuys felt confident enough to set back for London.

Catherine was troubled in her mind and heart those last days. She worried and wondered aloud if she had blame in the incredible events that had followed Henry's petition for a divorce.  Were any of the miserable consequences of the huge rift her fault? Had Catherine been wrong, she wondered, to stand so steadfastly against Henry?

On 6 January, Catherine had been able to sit up, and even arranged her own hair. However, by evening Catherine was growing restless. By midnight Catherine knew she was imminently near death. She dictated a letter to Henry giving instruction on how to proceed with her goods, and asking that she be buried in the chapel of the Observant Friars.

With death approaching, Catherine prayed, asking pardon for her soul. By two o'clock in the afternoon of 7 January 1536, Catherine of Aragon had taken her last breath. She was 50 years old at the time of her death. Victoria Sackville-West


WHAT time the meanest brick and stone
Take on a beauty not their own
And past the flaw of builded wood
Shines the intention whole and good,
And all the little homes of man
Rise to a dimmer, nobler span;
When colour's absence gives escape
To the deeper spirit of the shape

--Then earth's great architecture swells
Among her mountains and her fells
Under the moon to amplitude
Massive and primitive and rude:

--Then do the clouds like silver flags
Stream out above the tattered crags,
And black and silver all the coast
Marshalls its hunched and rocky host,
And headlands striding sombrely
Buttress the land against the sea
--The darkened land, the brightening wave--
And moonlight slants through Merlin's cave.

By Victoria Sackville-West