31 December 2012

Anne & Catherine: A Royal Battle

Anne Boleyn may have managed to take Catherine of Aragon's king away from her. But Catherine did not go down easily. In fact, she was defiant until the very bitter end.

Though Catherine was known amongst her people as a smiling queen of hearts, she was inwardly made of steel with a rock-hard will.

Smiling and kindly, is how Catherine's subjects most often would see their queen.  But Catherine was actually a dead-serious woman, and though a queen, she found her life to be one of little joy and much pain and hardship. Sent from Spain to a foreign country, married, widowed, nearly abandoned, married again, marriage, pregnancy, loss of children and infertility--these experiences were ones that Catherine endured, some happy, some sad. The unexpected phase in her life where she was informed she was no longer Queen of England, no longer wife of Henry VIII, her daughter no longer a princess, but a bastard, that experience would be the one that would mark the fight of her life.

As Catherine aged, day by day, she was forced to give up the dream of bearing a son, a son to give to her beloved husband. She gradually accepted her station in life, its limitations, and it wasn't a bad one to her. Catherine loved Henry with every fibre of her being, and she adored her only child, Mary. She believed that Henry also adored the pretty little princess he doted on. The middle aged queen's world was turned on its ear by the appearance of a mysterious lady, one who seemed to be French in appearance and mannerisms. A lady who was seductive, witty, intellectually brilliant, a woman who was much younger than Catherine. This new, dark featured beauty, with shining black eyes and shimmering raven coloured hair was one who just might give Henry a son--a woman who had served in the French court named Anne Boleyn.

It wasn't that Catherine hadn't endured Henry's infidelity before. She certainly had; his beautiful mistress Bessie Blount had even borne a son, Henry Fitzroy by the king. Henry took great care to provide and arrange things very nicely for his illegitimate son and his mother, and Catherine responded with rage. This chapter in their marriage caused serious trouble, to be certain.  But Henry still remained at Catherine's side; she was still his queen. Mary was still his princess daughter. But this was different; this was no infatuation guaranteed to subside and fade with time.  Henry, to Catherine's horror, was not content to keep Anne as a mistress, not even a formal mistress. He didn't want illegitimate sons by Anne; he wanted a legitimate prince by her. And Henry proved that he would do whatever it took to accomplish those means, split his kingdom in half, and destroy Catherine and Mary if necessary  Catherine could not have dreamed that Henry would actually divorce her, and then declare their daughter a bastard. It was inconceivable; it was not possible. Catherine was blind sided  and absolutely refused to accept her new title as Dowager Princess and her daughter as the Lady Mary. She refused Henry's terms and counselled Mary to also hold her ground, and refuse the king's new terms. But Catherine would find that Henry's new love was also digging in her heels. Anne would not accept anything less than queen; the sons she expected to give Henry must be legitimate heirs. 

Catherine, though for all appearances seemed to face her situation bravely, probably felt more than a little frightened of Anne Boleyn and the power she had over Henry. The two women were opposites in every way. Catherine was past childbearing, and  had been sickly for years. The new lady, Anne, looked the picture of health. A tallish woman, with an almost athletic build; she appeared youthful and strong. She wasn't conventionally beautiful, but she was vivacious, with seductive French mannerisms, and radiated a sexy confidence. Henry was besotted, determined to make his raven haired sweetheart queen. As time passed, Anne only grew more confident.  Catherine worried and fretted constantly, and grew more sickly. Mary was filled with hate and rage toward the concubine, toward anything and anyone who had facilitated the shameful breakdown of her parent's marriage.

Then a new habit began to emerge between Henry and Anne; they began to argue. The stress of the king's great matter, and how the whole scandal was now dragging out into years, was taking a toll on the couple. Anne grew frustrated and resentful. Time was being lost! Time was being lost in which Anne could have made a good marriage and borne sons, she screamed at Henry. Henry may have hoped that Catherine would either give up, or face defeat via other means. But Catherine would never give up. She continued to call herself queen and Henry VIII's "rightful wife." Catherine refused to give in or give up, and held out even as she lay dying, some of her last words expressing her love for Henry.

This battle would have no winners.  All involved would pay terrible prices, as well as affect countless innocent people. Catherine would die an excruciatingly painful death in a lonely faraway castle, if the dreary and cold habitation she was sent away to can be called that. Henry and Anne would marry, but it would end horrifically,  ultimately with Anne holding out hope for a pardon almost until the very end. The years of anxiety and anger would take a terrible toll on Mary, who became extremely unstable, and would exact a terrible vengeance on her subjects years later.

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