24 February 2013
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 death. Technically 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.
at 18:54 Posted by CR Wall