31 January 2011
Henry's claim to the throne was not a strong one. Weak claim or not in 1485 , Henry rose to a challenge put forth by some of the feistier subjects of Richard III, via trial of battle. Henry slew the reigning king and immediately became the de facto sovereign and was subsequently was crowned in Westminster Abbey. The matter became an essentially sealed deal, when 8 days later Parliament assembled and an Act was passed which declared the inheritance of the Crown as a right to Henry and of the heirs of his body.
Henry was anything if not shrewd, and in 1486 he married Elizabeth, thereby uniting two rival houses.
It may have seemed all those years ago, in 1457 that the child who would be known as Henry VII, would be a vulnerable individual, having lost his father prior to his own birth, and left with a mother who was still a child herself. But Henry had proven himself to be anything but weak. The intervention of relatives, and his own strong will had eventually resulted in his actually taking the throne without, according to some, even a legitimate claim.
30 January 2011
Though Jane is often described as having been a bland woman, both in looks and personality, she seems to have been far more complex. Jane had certainly evidenced traits of mercy and kindness in her brief lifetime. But Jane had also witnessed Anne Boleyn's tragic undoing, and may have even been directly, or indirectly involved in her former mistress's downfall.
Though Jane has been portrayed as being the new kid in town as far as court life was concerned, she was hardly a newcomer. Jane had actually served as Catherine of Aragon's ladies.
The king's involvement with Jane was confused with a number of significant events. Catherine had died in her lonely household at Kimbolton Castle. Though Catherine had not been well for years, her death was still shocking and unexpected. The Boleyn faction rejoiced as the doors finally seemed wide open for the legitimacy of Anne and Henry's union. Anne was at last queen, the only queen. The festive mood would be short-lived.
On 24 January, Henry's horse fell in the tilt yard, nearly killing the him. He was unconscious for about two hours. Medically speaking a lapse of consciousness lasting more than a few minutes, due to trauma, is significant. That Henry was unconscious for two hours is a virtual guarantee that he suffered some degree of brain injury. More bad news was on the horizon, and on 29 January, Anne suffered a devastating miscarriage. Anne's loss of her child sparked rumors and talk throughout the court, as to the cause of her miscarriage, and even claims that the fetus had been malformed. The latter was undoubtedly little more than a vicious rumor as Anne had not been at a level of gestation where any malformation would have been evident.
Jane's place during that miserable year is unclear. Jane's having been described as the Phoenix is certainly appropriate as she rose in Henry's esteem as Anne plunged. Henry's daughter Mary was becoming a far stronger threat to Anne, and her supporters did include Jane's family. Jane was not thought to posses any remarkable intelligence, however, she was probably not the milquetoast that she is assumed to be. It is very likely that the Seymour faction was actively pushing Jane towards Henry, and telling her exactly what she should say, how she should act to more effectively win the King's affections. Jane's famous overly-prim refusal of a gift offered to her by the king is likely proof of some sort of encouragement she received by those who were more than eager to topple Anne over.
29 January 2011
Catastrophic developments had taken place in Henry's life, and these would have a direct detrimental effect on Mary. Henry had fallen out of love with Mary's mother Catherine, and passionately in love with Anne Boleyn. This was a new reality that Mary would never understand, and would never accept. Mary's life as she had known it had been destroyed, and as far as she was concerned the blame fell squarely on Anne Boleyn's slender shoulders.
Just who was this strange woman who had eclipsed her mother so totally? Contemporary reports varied widely, with some calling Anne a bewitching beauty, and others describing her as plain, and with some odd physical defects. Most courtiers would agree that while the new woman who had captivated Henry was not beautiful, like Bessie Blount, she was very attractive. Anne was a tall, notably elegant raven haired woman, with expressive black eyes. Courtiers would say that Anne "knew how to use her eyes." Anne was also on the cutting edge of fashion, even setting lasting fashion trends herself, and styled herself like the perfect natural-born Frenchwoman. Slender and small busted, so different from Catherine, who had been once curvaceous, now grown stout, Henry seemed very pleased. Henry's court was moving in a different direction and Anne was simply captivating to some of the male courtiers. Though Queen Catherine still held firmly in her possession their respect, Henry and his male courtiers had long since begun to view his wife as boring, stout, old. Francis I had even meaner things to say to describe Catherine. Henry was in his prime, was considerably younger than Catherine, and was tired of his aging, barren wife. Henry determined he would get rid of his old wife, the sooner the better. Even if it cracked his country in half, and it would, he would rid himself of his "brother's wife whom he had never been rightfully married to," and marry the virginal Anne Boleyn, who had promised to give him a whole household of rudely healthy sons!
In the meantime, Mary was in the odd place of technically, not existing. As ridiculous as this sounds, if his marriage to Catherine was to be annulled, where did that leave Mary, the true issue of that marriage? Mary was now referred to as a "bastard," and was told in no uncertain terms that she would call herself Lady Mary.
If all this was not bad enough, Mary couldn't have known just how bad circumstances were going to get.
Mary was enchanting to her parents, and the king and queen were exceedingly proud of their little girl.
Only two days after her birth, Mary was christened at the church of the Observant Friars in Greenwich. Mary's godfather was Cardinal Wolsey, Henry's chief minister. One of the four knights who held a canopy over the baby as she entered the church, was, Sir Thomas Boleyn, Anne's father.
As tradition dictated, Mary would live separately from the king and queen. Mary was cared for by a very capable retinue of staff, including Katherine Pole as a wet-nurse, four rockers, laundress, and her governess, Elizabeth Denton. In 1518, this position passed to Lady Bryan. Mary's household also included a treasurer, chaplain, and even a gentlewoman. Though Mary's household was very orderly and proper, it was not a home devoid of affection.
For the most part, Mary grew up surrounded by adults. Her friendship with Frances Brandon, daughter of Mary and Charles Brandon would be an exception. And though she didn't live with her parents, they were an important part of her life, and were actually affectionate for 16th century monarchs. Henry bragged over his precocious child, of whom he said "never cried." Catherine adored Princess Mary. And though it was certainly resented by Catherine when the beautiful Elizabeth Blount gave birth to Henry's child in 1519, she remained confident of Mary's place in the succession.
Mary's household, like most wealthy households of Tudor days, moved location frequently. It was usually arranged that Mary would be located in a palace that would be close enough for Catherine to visit frequently. And though Mary and her mother had a very close relationship, the woman who would function as mother to Mary, from day to day, was the countess of Salisbury. Mary and the countess shared a profoundly close bond. The countess had been expressly chosen by Queen Catherine to attend Mary. A woman of striking statuesque beauty, the countess was very tall, pale, with the trademark red hair of the Plantagenet's. The countess was 47 when she began as governess to Mary.
The little princess demonstrated a remarkable talent for dance, and especially music. Astonishingly, at the age of four years, Mary was an accomplished player of the virginals, and later the lute. Mary was an excellent dancer, and people throughout the court were certainly impressed by Mary. Music and dance would be favorite pastimes for Mary throughout her life.
Elizabeth and Dudley were out hunting on the day that Amy died, as they had been doing for a number of days. Elizabeth and her Robbie had been positively ebullient, invigorated and refreshed, thoroughly enjoying one another's company. Both their mood and activities were rather inappropriate, given that Amy was reportedly wasting from a terminable illness. It would have seemed that Robert's place should have been by his dying wife's side.
As the queen was returning from the hunt, she made a comment to the Spanish ambassador that was stunning. She remarked that Robert's wife was likely dead, or at least nearly dead. Elizabeth then asked him to keep silent on the matter. De Quadra was nothing short of mortified. Did this mean that someone had deliberately murdered Amy Dudley? Had Amy been truly ill? Was it possible that Amy had committed suicide?
Amy had been alone at home the day she died, every servant had been away. That not a single person was in attendance of a dying woman was odd indeed. More strangely, Cecil had previously told De Quadra that Amy was in very good health, and that the danger to her was that someone might attempt to poison her.
The whispering rumors were flourishing at court, and Elizabeth's attitude did nothing to help the situation. She was reportedly reacting to Amy's death with remarkable callousness, even sarcasm. Was this the reaction of a woman who might have been complicit somehow in a rival's death, or was this an understandable and defensive reaction of a woman who was being unfairly maligned?
28 January 2011
|The Big Event: Anne and Henry marry|
Considering all that had been promised and intimated, to say that the actual event was anti-climactic is a bit of an understatement. Anne's romance with Henry had been one lusty affair, and her constant prudence and strict vigilance of her virginity, whether she was truly virginal, or not, was a subject that had become a moot point. Of course, great interest in Anne's virtue would be revived once again, and not in a good way.
Anne was already pregnant at her own wedding. This is normally not exactly a shocking scenario, but for Tudor folk, and royalty no less, it was a less than optimal presentation. It was a second marriage, and for every second marriage, there are bound to be a few people who are not pleased. I know whereof I speak, as I was once a second wife. The stakes were as high as the sky for this particular newly wedded pair, because as far as many of the English people were concerned, Henry was, and would always be, married, to Queen Catherine, that is. And Anne, in the mind of many, was a home wrecker. To add even more discomfiting feelings to events, Anne and Henry were actually co-habiting prior to the marriage. Whose decision it had been to live together prior to marriage, is unknown. What is known, is that it was a most unwise choice.
The actual wedding took place around 25, January. Rather than the marriage be announced, and immediate celebrations to follow, the wedding was kept a secret for some number of weeks. Pains were taken to keep the marriage a secret from Chapuys, especially, and even Francis. Rumors were swirling, however, and certain actions, such as Henry transferring over three hundredweight of gilt in December to Anne, confirmed those rumors. Despite the secrecy, and oddly, Anne began to drop loud hints that she was expecting, such as when she famously said in the midst of a number of courtiers, that she had developed a sudden ravenous craving for apples. By Wednesday of Holy Week, Queen Catherine was informed that she was to consider herself a dowager princess of Wales, and to curtail her lifestyle accordingly. The following Saturday, the day before Easter 1533, Anne attended mass as queen, drenched in jewels, wearing cloth of gold.
Even so, cracks in the relationship between Henry and Anne were becoming apparent. The English people were not accepting of Anne, and some subjects were rather bold in their protestations. Some of the opposition came from an unpleasantly close source, Henry's sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Charles Brandon. Henry's sister was making very insulting remarks about Anne, and tensions rose to the point where one of Brandon's principle gentlemen was left dead. Chapuys claimed that Henry had made a special visit to the Brandons, presumably to ask them to accept Anne. Whatever the King may have said, Mary, especially, continued to snub Anne in a very public fashion.
And of course, the struggle with Rome still had no end in sight.
27 January 2011
Juana was about as unlucky in love and life as a woman could be. To date, Juana remains one of the most tragically misunderstood figures of her time.
Born in Toledo, capital of the Kingdom of Castile , she was the third daughter of Isabella 1 of Castile, and Ferdinand II of Aragon, from the House of Trastamara. Juana showed great promise as a child, and actually mastered all of the Iberian Romance languages, as well as being fluent in both French and Latin. Juana was considered exceptionally attractive as a child. Though nearly always portrayed on film by women with olive features, Juana had the same coloring as her mother, and sister Catherine of Aragon, with strawberry blonde hair and pale blue eyes, of fair complexion. Though Juana was not expected to reign, she gave every impression of having a bright future. No one could have predicted the profound sadness and instability that would plague Juana later.
1496 was a year Juana would always remember, as she was betrothed to Phillip the Handsome, in Flanders. The two attractive youths were instantly smitten. However, Joanna's sublime feeling would be fleeting, due to Phillip's infidelities, and extreme political pressures placed upon the young couple. The concept of marital fidelity was much lauded in this age, but for male monarchs was hardly a realistic one. Though the knowledge that one's husband is cheating is, and has always been painful for a woman, Juana's heartache would come to define her. The unhappy young wife grew obsessed with her husband, and his mistresses. Sick with jealously and depression, Juana grew increasingly unstable. Others would take advantage Juana's obvious vulnerability, and when her husband died on 25, September 1506, it was a devastating blow from which she would never recover from. Phillip had been only 28 years old at the time of his death. Circumstances surrounding the death were both mysterious and disturbing, adding to Juana's misery.
Juana's life eventually deteriorated to the extent that her own son virtually imprisoned her. Isolated and cast aside, Juana was left with little more than her memories.
26 January 2011
Claude was described by contemporary reports as homely, and deformed. But what she lacked in outer beauty was perhaps made up for by her good character. The young queen suffered from severe scoliosis and was of short stature. Claude was reported to have had a warm, gentle nature, but was hemmed in by a rather claustrophobic existence, to say the least.
Although there exists no hard evidence to prove such: it is commonly believed that Anne Boleyn spent at least 7 years in Queen Claude's household. Claude spent most of her time in the beautiful Upper Loire, and at Blois. Anne reportedly adored the French ambiance and sophisticated culture. Anne was truly in her element. She would so adapt herself to the French court, that in England, years later Anne was often mistaken for a natural born Frenchwoman. It is believed that Anne honed her remarkable singing and musical skills while in service in Claude's household.
While Claude endured one difficult pregnancy followed by another, her husband also had a serial pastime, but his was with mistresses. Claude bore his infidelity with stoic silence, choosing to concern herself with her own personal spirituality, and virtue. Though gentle by nature, Claude ran a famously strict household, and most people in her service would abide to her standards. Though physically frail, Queen Claude was not weak in character.
Claude's death on 20, July 1524, would have an obvious demoralizing effect on Francis and his court, and syphilis is thought to be the actual cause of his own death in 1547. Despite the lack of fidelity Francis had demonstrated while his dutiful wife lived, he would mourn her death heavily, probably realizing all that he had lost when his young wife quietly departed.
Catherine had endured much heartache, and great disappointment prior to Baby Mary's birth. Catherine had suffered four miscarriages, a stillbirth, and the mysterious death of a seemingly healthy baby son at the age of two months. It must be remembered that while Catherine was experiencing her long series of disappointments, she was also growing older. There clock ticked loudly for Tudor women, much more so than for women in their childbearing years, today. Life expectancy was much reduced, and therefore the time to easily conceive was shortened accordingly. There were still instances of women delivering viable infants in their mid-forties, or so, but these cases were rare.
Though Henry was disappointed at Mary's gender, he adopted a positive outlook, saying that her birth was proof that the couple could have healthy children. "We are still young," Henry replied to a Venetian ambassador who had offered what could nearly be taken as a condolence.
Henry may have been too optimistic. Catherine was 31, and in Tudor days, a number of years which we now regard as youthful, was actually quite mature.
25 January 2011
Tradition held that on New Year's Day, gifts were to be exchanged amongst the royal court. Anne presented Henry with Pyrenean boar spears, and Henry gave Anne luxurious embroidered crimson, and hangings in cloth of gold, and of silver. These lovely gifts could not, however, erase the feelings and mood that resulted from Henry's decision to exclude Catherine from the holiday proceedings. It was the first time the king would not give any holiday gift to his queen, and hatefully, he also demanded that no courtier would make a gift to Catherine. Embarrassingly for Henry and Anne, Catherine did remember Henry with a gift: a remarkable gold cup, obviously expensive and very fine. The king was obviously blindsided by the unexpected gift, and took out his rage on the poor gentleman of the privy chamber. Almost immediately afterward, in a panic, Henry realized he had made a foolish mistake in rejecting the gift. If the beautiful cup had already been sent back, there was every possibility that it would be presented again at a public court function, where Henry could not possibly reject it and thus be forced to recognize his relationship with Katherine.
No one could ever accuse Katherine of having a lack of intelligence, and in this case she had shown a sharp cleverness. As things turned out, the cup had not yet been returned, and Henry issued orders that it not be returned until that evening.
King Henry's uneasiness and Anne's growing sense of anxiety would have been palpable that Christmas of 1531.
Catherine was loved by the English people from start to finish. Most modern portrayals of Catherine feature women with dark eyes and raven locks. As stunning as those features are, Catherine in no way resembled such a woman. Catherine of Aragon had luxurious strawberry blonde hair, and pale blue eyes. She was of a fair complexion with a rose to her cheeks. Catherine had a buxom figure, and after many pregnancies her figure was rather fulsome.
The lonely queen's life was anything but easy, and she experienced a long series of health problems and depression. How much of her sufferings were caused by her genetics, or the incredible stresses she endured in England are hard to gauge.
Catherine's life was nearly unbearable in the time after Arthur's death and up until her marriage to Henry. There would be some happiness, followed by years of sorrow. Even so, Catherine remained a kindly woman, one who chose to pardon her enemies. Some have criticized her harshly for refusing to let go of the king when he decided he would have Anne Boleyn as his wife. It may have been immeasurably better had she released her husband rather than oppose the divorce in a schism that cracked England in two. But her reasoning was that her husband's soul was in danger if he persisted with the divorce and eventual remarriage to Anne.
Catherine's personal symbol was the pomegranate of Granada. Palace walls were embellished with Tudor roses, pomegranates, and the initials H for Henry, and K as then Catherine's name was usually spelled as Kateryne by the English people.
Catherine's natural beauty would fade relatively early. Contemporary reports record that she had very unusual, and unhealthy eating habits. Despite her stoutness, gluttony was not her problem. Rather, she seemed to eat too sparingly, and with little dietary variety. The queen was also in a more often than not constant state of pregnancy. Catherine also had to worry early on about Henry's marital fidelity, or lack of. Catherine was only 29 when the cracks in her marriage were beginning to show. To the queen, her identity as wife and mother was her very essence. And it is not difficult to understand how the stress she endured rapidly evidenced itself on the long-suffering queen's once cherubic face.
23 January 2011
The mortal risk that maternity carried in Tudor days was certainly significant. Were it not bad enough that medicine was comparatively, in a dark age, it was coupled with superstitious myths and beliefs that increased peril faced by mothers and infants. There are records of Tudor women so thoroughly terrorized by the prospect of dying in childbirth, that they simply elected to avoid marriage. Queen Elizabeth was thought to have a strong fear of childbirth, though the reasons for her firm avoidance of marriage are not clear, and seem to have been complex. *(No doubt that having witnessed firsthand her sister's horrifying experience with two hysterical pregnancies did little to sweeten Elizabeth's views on the matter of childbearing.)
For Tudor women, the experience of childbearing was one that might cause elation for one woman, and abject misery for her neighbor. There existed no reliable tests to determine if a woman were pregnant, or not. Housewives' tales abounded, such as the belief that the veins beneath a pregnant woman's tongue would be greenish in hue. Strong food cravings were also thought to be related to pregnancy, as they still are today. Prenatal care was virtually non-existent. Tudor women followed a very odd dietary regimen prescribed by the physicians and midwives of the day. A strange but common belief at the time was that pregnant women should carefully avoid viewing, or even thinking about any disturbing subject. Having suffered a fright or disturbance during pregnancy was thought to cause monstrous births, that is delivery of a severely deformed child. One can only imagine the sorrow of women who were unfortunate enough to have delivered such children, given the ignorance and lack of empathy of the times. Worse, such mothers were often accused of being evil, or at blame somehow for such a birth. Women were often held responsible for the very sex of their infant, a woman being a "good wife" for birthing sons, and by contrast a "bad wife" who only brought her husband daughters. One famous example of this cruel, misogynistic attitude is that of King Henry VIII, and his severe displeasure when Anne Boleyn found herself unable to give her husband a son.
The number of children desired by Tudor women was usually related to socioeconomic status. Wealthier families were typically desperate to product mail heirs; poor families often experienced severe anxiety and deprivation with each new addition to the family.
Pity the poor woman who became pregnant outside of marriage in those days, as she would be heavily sanctioned by her community, and often her family as well. An unmarried mother might have to rely solely on the church for support, and this inevitably resulted in bad feelings across the board.
Though the majority of pregnancies in Tudor times did result in delivery and live birth, women dying in childbirth was not a rare occurrence. The majority of women knew, or even witnessed a women who had died in her child-bed, and due to lack of effective medical intervention, those deaths were often prolonged and painful.
Queen Jane Seymour was one such woman who would die of complications related to childbirth. After an excruciatingly painful labor lasting days, and finally culminating in the birth of Edward, in 1537, Queen Jane would die of child-bed fever shortly afterward.
One of the strangest and most disturbing aspects of Queen Mary 1's whole persona, other than the most obvious, the Marian Persecutions, are her history of phantom pregnancies. Even today this strange malady is hotly debated, even to the extent of whether or not the state of phantom pregnancy actually exists. What is known is that Mary believed she was with child at least twice, and that she exhibited strong symptoms of actual pregnancy. The supposed causes of her phantom pregnancies are unknown, and almost certainly will remain thus.
As of late, revision writers, some of them truly gifted, are hard at work in an attempt to paint Mary in a new light. Though I find their writings to be endlessly fascinating, I am unsure as to how we might view Mary more favorably, as it is a documented fact that she was responsible for sending over 300 human beings to the stake. Her very name is synonymous with terror and religious persecution: Mary Tudor.
Those who are sympathetic of Mary Tudor inevitably cite her bitter childhood and adolescence in portraying her more positively. I digress; who can say they are not personally acquainted with a friend or family member who has experienced a miserable childhood? What percentage of the population has experienced the rejection of a parent? Unfortunately, this is not a rare or uncommon occurrence. Not withstanding, only a small number of people who have experienced such tragedy will every display the cruel malevolence that Mary did. Granted that few people will ever hold the power to exact such revenge on society. None the less, her actions live on, nearly half a millennium after her death.
Mary's phantom pregnancies were as mysterious as they were personally humiliating. What is known is that she was likely too advanced in age, that is for Tudor times, to accomplish a successful pregnancy and delivery. This was a time that was fraught with maternal danger, and Mary had experienced menstrual disturbances almost from the very start of her menses. Her wish to become a mother, given her fragile health and the time in history, and her age, was probably far too ambitious, though certainly understandable. Perhaps Mary could have been spared a great deal of pain and extreme embarrassment if her doctors had been courageous enough to simply tell her the truth. Rumours abounded that she was certainly not pregnant, and that no viable child would ever result from the two confinements. But Mary's actions had terrorized an entire country, and who would have wanted to be the fall guy to tell the queen that she was not pregnant, and probably never would be? No one wanted to wear those shoes, so Mary was flattered and given false hope until she herself accused her caretakers of blatant false flattery. Her confinements must have seemed interminable, while her doctors plied her with false hope long after nine long months of waiting had produced absolutely nothing. Clearly Simon Renard did not entertain any false hopes for Mary when in the spring of 1557 he wrote to Phillip, regarding the English succession. Concerned about how events had played out, he was casting a very watchful eye on Elizabeth. Mary was certainly in a rapid downward spiral, both physically and mentally. Today she might have been diagnosed as suffering from acute clinical depression, and would have been treated accordingly. But in 1557, human health, and maternity were enshrouded in superstition and ill-conceived notions. It did not help that Phillip, who treated his wife shamefully, openly abandoned her with hardly a glance backward. From our historical vantage point, we can safely say that Phillip was not exactly a nice guy, as history would play out. But in Tudor days, for a consort to basically ditch a monarch was a stunning and shocking scandal. Even if the diminutive little man suspected his wife was experiencing a hysterical pregnancy, his abandonment of his wife during those dark days was the epitome of cowardice. It might be said that he shared nearly equal blame for the Marian persecutions, as he certainly encouraged the terror Mary's subjects experienced. Rather than acting as a supportive, mature husband, Phillip was throwing tantrums because he had not been crowned king. In one piteous letter to Phillip, Mary wrote:
I beseech you in all humility to put off the business until your return...For otherwise your highness will be angry against me, and that will be worse than death to me, for I have already begun to taste you anger all too often, to my great sorrow.
Unfortunately, Mary's "great sorrow" would be transfered to the English people as the fires of Smithfield burned even as Mary lay dying. Was her motivation a true desire to see her people restored to her faith, or was it cruel revenge for the offenses of her own father, and even Anne Boleyn? Too this current day, Mary's strange life remains for the most part, a mystery.