04 February 2011

Catherine Howard: His rose without a thorn

Catherine Howard was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII.

After the death of Jane, Henry was shopping for a queen.  At this point in his life, and given his history, most women considered for the job were shying away from it.  When asked if she was interested in being Henry's queen, Christina of Milan is to have said that if she only had two heads, she would give Henry one. As far as the thinking of those days were concerned, Henry had put away Catherine of Aragon unfairly, had Anne Boleyn executed without just cause, and let Jane Seymour die in her child bed for a negligent lack of care.  And Anne of Cleves, what had that been about?   Not everyone thought so negatively of Henry, of course, but many people, especially women, did. So the task of finding a wife, and one that Henry liked, was not going to be easy.

Enter Catherine Howard. Young, pretty, and not savvy or powerful enough to decline marriage proposal to the aging king, she was the perfect choice (victim.)  Still, there existed problems that Henry had not the insight to consider.  Catherine was a simple party girl from the provinces, hardly queen material.  Catherine was Anne Boleyn's cousin, and mutual family would not be all the two women would share.

For a time, King Henry was ecstatic over his young pretty wife.  Her referred to Catherine as his "rose without a thorn."   What the king didn't know is that his queen was no virgin, and would not be chaste even after her marriage.  Soon after the nuptials Catherine behaved like a loose canon, flirting wildly, and when Mary Tudor accused her stepmom of caring for little else but pleasure, she was right.

Still, it is hard not to sympathize with Catherine. Henry was 30 years older than his queen, 350+ pounds, and afflicted with boils that produced a nauseating stench. Naturally, the young Catherine was not attracted to Henry, and was almost immediately interested in someone else. That she actually thought she could get away with cheating on Henry is where things become unbelievable. Of course, Catherine was promptly discovered.
And though he would mourn for her, King Henry did sign her death warrant.

01 February 2011

Lady Rochford: How to destroy a queen

Jane Parker, future wife of George Boleyn, Anne's brother,  played the role of Constancy in a court pageant on Shrove Tuesday, March 1522.  Anne played the role of Perseverance, and her sister Mary, Kindness.  Anne couldn't have known what a role the woman playing Constancy would have in her  own life, some years later.

George Boleyn and Jane Parker did not have a happy marriage, that much is certain.  The reasons behind their martial strife have been much speculated on; whatever the causes were, Jane and George were not well-suited. The persistent idea that George was homosexual is unfounded. In fact, George seems to have been quite a lady's man.

Not surprisingly, Jane didn't care for Anne, and the feeling was mutual.  Still, no one could have guessed that Jane would have a direct hand in pulverizing Anne when she made a disgusting accusation against her own husband, George, and his sister. If Jane had found her husband annoying, she had hatched a perfect plan to rid herself of him, and destroy him. George responded to his cruel wife's claims by telling the judges:  "On the evidence of only one woman are willing to believe this great evil of me, and on the basis of her allegations you are deciding my judgement."

Though there was no love lost between Jane and George, what compelled her to so utterly destroy her husband and sister-in-law is unclear.  It has been thought that her family's history with the Princess Mary might have been a factor.  And quite possibly, Jane's actions may have been fueled by nothing other than one of man's ugliest emotions: Jealousy.

Birth of Henry Fitzroy

Elizabeth "Bessie" Blount was mistress to King Henry for an unknown period of time, and eventually bore his son, Henry Fitzroy.  Though a stunning beauty, she  didn't appear to expect very much out of the relationship, and when it was over, she made a quiet exit. That is not to say that Henry did not reward her for having had his son, because he certainly did.

Though Bessie is often thought to have been just another beautiful face, without much behind it, she was actually an intelligent woman, who loved poetry, dancing and music.  Bessie was also one of Catherine's own ladies, no doubt making her dalliance with the king even more personal to the queen.

When Bessie gave birth to Henry's son, and Henry reacted by publicly recognizing his son, and giving special favors to his mistress, Catherine was furious.  Catherine had closed her eyes to other dalliances of Henry's, and she had been admired by some male courtiers for that, but this was time was different. Henry had bestowed his son with honors and titles, as Knight of the Garter, Earl of Nottingham, Duke of both Richmond and Somerset, and even Lord Admiral of England.  Catherine took this as a personal insult, a direct blow to herself as Henry's wife, and to their daughter, Mary.

The high honors that the king had given his son would send Catherine into an absolute fury; such anger was not typical for Catherine who was known for keeping her emotions in check. Henry was shocked at his normally meek wife's response.  Clearly, he had not expected such a reaction from Catherine, and as a result, he also responded with rage. He would punish Catherine by dismissing three of her Spanish ladies, whom he believed had stirred up strife with gossip. (That he blamed Catherine's ladies for resenting his public insult of their mistress was a bit over the top).  The banishing of her ladies was an additional embarrassment for Catherine, and foreign ambassadors did not fail to notice.

It is easy to understand Catherine's anger and pain.  It was not enough that Henry had the much wanted male son with his mistress, he made several choices which only intensified Catherine's pain, even choosing Cardinal Wolsey as godfather. Catherine would begin to resent Wolsey, who it seemed was pushing for the advancement of Henry Fitzroy.

For Catherine, Henry Fitzroy's birth marked a time of painful disappointments, and her relationship with Henry would begin to change.

Mary and Elizabeth: Sisters Opposite

Mary had not been happy about the birth of her younger sister, Elizabeth.  This was entirely understandable; Mary had been thrown aside, dismissed, her  identity taken away from her.  Despite a rocky start, there would develop a sisterly love between Mary and Elizabeth.  In her youth, Mary had not been an unkind child. After Anne's death Mary seems to have felt compassionate and concern, probably feeling regret that her baby sister was now receiving the same rejection she herself was so familiar with.

The differences between the two sisters, however, were great, and they would become nearly completely estranged as adults.

The beginning of a distance that would mark Mary and Elizabeth's relationship probably began when their brother Edward was king.  Their differences were growing, and their personal associations were of a very different persuasion. A clear mistrust was growing between the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and that of Anne Boleyn. Mary had hardened as a result of a series of miserable occurrences, and she was taking the shape of a sadly unstable person.  Elizabeth was sharply intelligent, and also unsurprisingly for a person who had grown up largely without mother or father, was becoming rather wily and resourceful.

The death of Edward marked a time of extreme unease between Mary and Elizabeth, and their relationship as sisters became hopelessly strained.