Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Stereotyped Six Wives: Six: 'Never A Wife More Agreeable to His Heart'


Katherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII of England
Lifetime: 1512 - 5 September 1548
Reigned: July 1543 - January 1547 (3 years, 6 months)
Pregnancies: 0

In this new six-part series, I will be reexamining the lives and personalities of Henry VIII's six wives, seeking to portray their lives realistically in a process that discards prevailing stereotypes. Much scholarly work has been done on Henry's reign in recent decades, affording fresh insights into the politics and achievements of the period. Understandably, widespread interest in Henry's marital affairs remains unabated. Yet stereotypes continue to bedevil our knowledge of the wives of this most enigmatic king. 

Katherine Parr was Henry VIII's sixth wife and in many respects she differed from his other consorts. She had been twice married when Henry's eye fell on her and, at thirty-one, she was somewhat older than her successors. The ageing king had wed Katherine Howard because her youth seemed to promise fertility. In marrying Katherine Parr, Henry perhaps acknowledged that he might not have any more legitimate children. The new queen was a charming, educated and well-liked woman who was known for her evangelical sympathies. Katherine can be termed the first truly Protestant queen of England and she was a noted patron of reformist scholars. She was also deeply interested in the Renaissance and spent considerable sums of money on clothing, works of art and jewellery. Like her predecessor Anne Boleyn, Katherine also enjoyed music, dancing and the finer things in life. In this respect she was an ideal consort. Yet her intelligence and devotion to reform threatened to be her own undoing. Towards the end of his life, rumours circulated that the king was rapidly tiring of his opinionated wife and was considering removing her. Fortunately, Katherine emerged unscathed but she was fortunate to escape potential arrest and even execution for heresy. 

While Katherine's importance as queen was underestimated or even dismissed by nineteenth-century historians, modern scholars are keenly aware of her political, religious and cultural significance. The traditional and erroneous stereotype of her as merely her husband's nurse has been superseded by studies that demonstrate her importance to the advancement of Protestantism in England alongside her status as a Renaissance patron. She was a loving stepmother to Henry's children and was especially close to Elizabeth. Having at one time been perhaps the most misrepresented of Henry's wives, it is perhaps Katherine Parr, of all his queens, whose true character has most clearly emerged in light of advances in historical scholarship.


Above: Snape Castle in Yorkshire, where Katherine Parr and her stepchildren were held hostage during her time as the wife of John Neville.

Katherine Parr was the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas and Maud Parr, and was most probably born in around August 1512 at Blackfriars in London. Her brother William was born in 1513 and her sister Anne followed in about 1515. As with Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, Katherine's father was a close favourite of Henry VIII, while Lady Maud served as Katherine of Aragon's lady-in-waiting. Most probably the queen stood as Katherine Parr's godmother, for whom she was named. When she was five years old, Katherine's father died. Her mother, an ambitious and resourceful lady, successfully managed the family's estates, supervised her children's education, and arranged marriages for her two eldest children. In the words of Susan E. James, Maud 'set an example of female independence that was to have a lifelong effect on her elder daughter'. 

Like Anne Boleyn, Katherine was well-educated and grew to be an articulate, assertive and remarkable young woman. She was not beautiful, but she was attractive. The Spanish ambassador recorded that she was 'of small stature, graceful, and of cheerful countenance'. The Duke of Najera's secretary Pedro de Gant similarly reported that she had a 'cheerful countenance' and was 'praised for her virtue'. Katherine's skeleton, unearthed in the nineteenth-century, showed her to have stood at 5'2 inches tall, making her about the same height as Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour and probably slightly taller than both Katherine of Aragon and Katherine Howard, who was said to be 'diminutive' in stature. She had auburn hair, grey eyes and graceful, finely shaped hands. As the above testimony indicates, she had a gracious and merry temperament. She was also passionate, intense and outspoken.

Katherine had an aptitude for languages, acquiring a knowledge of French, Latin, and Italian, and as queen she sought to learn Spanish. In the summer of 1529, at the age of seventeen, Katherine married Edward Borough, who was perhaps four years her senior. Historians have conjectured that Katherine might not have been happy during her first marriage, for her father-in-law was overbearing and bullying. The young couple resided at Kirton in Lindsey, Lincolnshire, but their marriage proved to be a short one. Katherine's first husband died, only in his mid-twenties, in the spring of 1533. A year later, Katherine remarried. Her second husband was John Neville, Baron Latimer. This was an excellent marriage for Katherine and the ambitious Parrs, for it made her a baroness. 

In puzzling over the origins of Katherine Parr's proclivity for the reformed faith, historians have wondered whether it began during her marriage to Latimer, for her husband was conservative in matters of religion. Dwelling at Snape Castle in Yorkshire, the new Lady Latimer received a fright when her husband was seized by an angry mob during the Pilgrimage of Grace in the autumn of 1536. Her husband was in a perilous position, in trying to please both the rebels and the suspicious king. In early 1537, believing that Latimer was about to betray them to the king, the rebels stormed Snape and seized Katherine and her stepchildren as hostages. Fortunately for them, Latimer managed to secure their release, and a few months later Lord and Lady Latimer departed for the south.



Whether Katherine was happy during her second marriage is unknown. If she had begun to harbour sympathies for the reformed religion around the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace, she might well have experienced tensions with her conservative husband. As in her first marriage, Katherine remained childless. In the spring of 1543, her fortunes changed drastically. Latimer died and, while serving at court in the household of Mary Tudor, Katherine attracted the ageing king. Like Anne Boleyn, Katherine reacted negatively when she learned that Henry wished to marry her. She seems to have harboured feelings for Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane, and perhaps wished to marry him when her period of mourning for Latimer was at an end. Katherine, highly reluctant, eventually overcame her scruples upon concluding that it was God's will that she become queen. As she later wrote to Thomas: 'Howbeit, God withstood my will therein most vehemently... [and] made me to renounce utterly mine own will, and to follow his most willingly'. On 12 July 1543, Katherine married Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace in a quiet ceremony.

Although Katherine Parr was fulsomely praised in her own lifetime and has been lauded by modern historians for her success as queen, she may initially have struggled for, like her predecessor Katherine Howard, she lacked experience at court. As Susan E. James writes, she was 'the only one of Henry's queens without either royal background or court service to train her for her new position'. Fortunately, Katherine quickly established excellent relations with her three stepchildren. She was already close to Mary on account of her brief time in Mary's household, and the new queen became closely involved in the education of both Elizabeth and Edward. The prince regularly wrote to Katherine informing her about the progress of his studies, while Elizabeth also frequently penned missives to her stepmother. Katherine's importance cannot be underestimated, for she was partly responsible for Henry's decision to include both Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession.

Katherine Parr, like Katherine of Aragon, was an energetic, resourceful and active queen, and like Henry's first wife she was selected by the king to serve as regent in 1544 when he departed on a military expedition to France. Katherine's assertiveness may have caused resentment among the conservatives at court. She signed five royal proclamations as regent and was praised by her husband for her success in the role of regent. Henry appreciated Katherine's capability and aptitude for governance, but these same qualities later caused him irritation. It is interesting that Henry, after marrying the submissive Jane Seymour and Katherine Howard, once again selected an assertive and outspoken woman to be his final wife. Like Katherine of Aragon, Katherine Parr was, at least initially, not at all hesitant about speaking her mind in matters of religion and, perhaps, politics.


Above: "The Lamentation of a Sinner", published by Katherine in 1547 after Henry's death.

As stated in the introductory paragraph, of all Henry's wives, Katherine Parr's life has perhaps been described most realistically in modern times. However, one pervasive myth that concerns her is that she was something of an early feminist. Katherine's mother had been an independent, assertive and intelligent woman and, with her example in mind, it is unsurprising that Katherine grew up to value these qualities. Unlike Jane Seymour, who had submitted to Henry's control irrespective of her true feelings, or Katherine Howard, whose motto as queen was similarly grounded in her deference to Henry, Katherine Parr was outspoken, highly learned and opinionated, perhaps at times overbearing. These qualities were to place her in a position of danger. However, despite the example of her mother, Katherine was in no way a feminist transported back in time to Tudor England. 

She was the first English queen to publish her own work. As she perceived it, her most important duty was to advance the reformed religion. It had been God's will that she marry Henry, and she believed that it was God's will that she bring about the triumph of the 'godly' faith. In her analysis of Katherine's The Lamentation of a Sinner, Susan E. James argues that Katherine associated Christ with qualities that were usually linked to women: 'Christ was innocent, obedient unto his father... meek and humble in the heart... [who] came to serve... [and] despised worldly honour'. By contrast, the writer described herself as having qualities that were usually associated with men; she was 'disobedient and most stubborn... most proud and vainglorious... I coveted to rule over [my brethren]'. The Lamentation contained an inversion of contemporary gender roles, which underscored Katherine's 'interpretation of her own self-image as one who was set apart by virtue of position and understanding from her sex in general and from those restrictions commonly imposed on that sex in particular' [Susan E. James].

Katherine's assertive queenship, in which she undermined and challenged the conventional understanding of women as passive, frail and corrupt beings, had a profound influence on her younger stepdaughter Elizabeth. Perhaps Elizabeth's own triumphant style of rule was deeply affected by her experience of Katherine's queenship. However, as Susan E. James notes, it is going too far to read an early form of feminism into Katherine's beliefs. She was not denying the contemporary notion of female inferiority. In the same work, the writer instructed women to be silent and obey their husbands in all things. Women should be, according to Katherine, sober, dutiful, and submissive. Their primary role was as mother and wife. 

Even if Katherine was by no means an early feminist, her contemporaries viewed her as remarkable. John Foxe later described her as 'but a woman accompanied with all the imperfections natural to the weakness of her sex', but commented that she was 'very zealous towards the Gospel'. She was more assertive than Anne Boleyn, but she soon realised the dangers of appearing to question Henry's authority. Where Katherine of Aragon had occasionally dared to reprimand her husband, Katherine Parr was forced to deny her beliefs and submit herself entirely to her husband in order to survive. 


Above: Sudeley Castle, where Katherine died in 1548.

Katherine's sympathies for the reformed religion, according to John Foxe, put her in a position of great danger. The conservatives, perhaps still harbouring resentment about the downfall and disgrace of Katherine Howard, harboured a secret desire to oust Katherine Parr from power. In the spring of 1546 Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, began plotting to destroy her and rumours of the queen's imminent disgrace began to circulate at court. In a moment of irritation, the king agreed to his wife's arrest. Fortunately for her, Katherine discovered the news of her impending arrest and, in a speech in which she submitted herself entirely to Henry's wisdom, secured her husband's forgiveness. It is possible that Katherine's speech of submission inspired that of Katherina in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Katherine never again risked her husband's wrath and was more subdued in the final months of Henry's life.

Katherine Parr had been queen of England for three and a half years when her mercurial husband died on 28 January 1547 at Whitehall Palace in London. A few months later she remarried. Her fourth husband was the handsome Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane. Unfortunately, Katherine was not to experience lasting happiness in her new marriage. Her husband was reckless and irresponsible, and his scandalous relationship with Elizabeth Tudor caused Katherine dismay and despair. Elizabeth, who had resided in her stepmother's household, was banished. Katherine gave birth to her only child, Mary, on 30 August 1548. The child probably died before her second birthday. Katherine passed away less than a week later at the age of thirty-six. She was deeply mourned by her friends and family and was buried in Sudeley Chapel. Eleven-year-old Lady Jane Grey acted as chief mourner. 

In recent years, there have been several excellent studies of Katherine. They have established that she was an extremely important queen of England who was a key player in both the Reformation and the Renaissance in England. She was involved in the founding of Trinity College, Cambridge, and she was deeply interested in educational reform. She was also a patron of the arts, in particular music, painting, and drama. Katherine's model of queenship may have greatly influenced her stepdaughter Elizabeth's style of rule. She and Katherine of Aragon, her namesake, were probably the two most assertive and active of Henry's queens. Both were selected by the king to act as Regent of the country while he was abroad, and both shared similar personalities: they were assertive; energetic; passionate; articulate; and opinionated. Both were highly popular and were admired not only by their subjects but by foreign visitors and ambassadors at court. 

These studies have largely contributed to the dismantling of myths surrounding Katherine Parr, primarily the erroneous tale of her acting as her husband's nurse. Of all the wives, it is perhaps Katherine's personality which emerges most clearly. Admired in her own day, respected today, she is now perhaps the least stereotyped of Henry's queens. 









Monday, 26 October 2015

The Stereotyped Six Wives: Five: 'Flourishing in Youth'


Katherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII of England
Lifetime: c. 1523 - 13 February 1542
Reigned: July 1540 - November 1541 (1 year, 4 months)
Pregnancies: 0

In this new six-part series, I will be reexamining the lives and personalities of Henry VIII's six wives, seeking to portray their lives realistically in a process that discards prevailing stereotypes. Much scholarly work has been done on Henry's reign in recent decades, affording fresh insights into the politics and achievements of the period. Understandably, widespread interest in Henry's marital affairs remains unabated. Yet stereotypes continue to bedevil our knowledge of the wives of this most enigmatic king. 

The pretty teenager Katherine Howard had been at court for only seven months when she became queen of England upon her marriage to Henry VIII on 28 July 1540 at Oatlands Palace. The niece of Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, Katherine had served as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves. Henry was entranced by his wife's attractive attendant and began publicly favouring her in April. Katherine's downfall was as swift as her ascent. In November 1541, her unsavoury past was discovered by her husband and his Privy Council, who had been informed by the reformer John Lascelles, brother of Katherine's childhood acquaintance Mary Lascelles. The council also learned that the queen had met in secret several times with her husband's gentleman of the privy chamber Thomas Culpeper. Both Katherine and Culpeper insistently denied that they had engaged in sexual intercourse, but their pleas of innocence went unheard. Culpeper was executed alongside Katherine's former lover Francis Dereham, who had boasted that he would be sure to marry Katherine once Henry had died. The queen, accompanied by her lady-in-waiting Jane Rochford, followed them to the scaffold in February 1542. Katherine was reviled as an adulteress in her own time and has been systematically 'slut shamed' in modern times. However, the brief evidence of her queenship indicates that she was a noted intercessor, a patron and loyally provided for her family and friends. The traditional depiction of her as an older, knowing woman who quarrelled with her stepdaughter Mary Tudor, a woman who was 'airheaded' or 'dim', is one that is not fully supported by the extant sources. In continuing to 'slut shame' Katherine, modern historians merely perpetuate the prevailing misogyny of the period in which Katherine lived.


Above: Oatlands Palace, where Katherine Howard married Henry VIII.

Katherine Howard's origins are mostly unknown; we do not know her birth date, where she was born, or her exact number of siblings. Her contemporaries, however, were agreed that she was very young when she married Henry VIII. In his Metrical Visions, Wolsey's former gentleman usher George Cavendish referred to Katherine's youth no less than ten times; for example, he described her as 'floryshyng in youthe with beawtie freshe and pure'. The French ambassador Charles Marillac believed that Katherine was sexually involved with Dereham from the ages of thirteen to eighteen. However, he was not perceptive about women's ages: he had earlier affirmed that Anne of Cleves was thirty, rather than twenty-four, perhaps because he disliked her German clothing and manners. It is possible that Marillac was unaware of Katherine's relations with Henry Manox, but he would have known of Dereham given Dereham's position at court in Katherine's household. On the basis of hearsay that Katherine had been sexually active in 1536, and knowing that rumours had accused her of granting sexual favours to Dereham as queen, Marillac might have assumed that she was thirteen in 1536 and eighteen in 1541. 

Other observers agreed that Katherine was younger than Henry's previous wives. Richard Hilles, in his letter to Henry Bullinger written in 1541, reported that the king had married 'a young girl'. Katherine herself blamed her youth for her mistakes, which indicates that she was still in her teenage years. Warnicke has advanced the suggestion that modern historians are usually reluctant in believing Katherine may have been younger than eighteen because it depicts Henry VIII in a negative light. However, following Jane Seymour's death he had been interested in marrying the sixteen-year-old Christina of Milan, and his mistress Bessie Blount had been perhaps only fourteen years old when Henry was first attracted to her. The abundance of references to Katherine's youth indicate that she was probably born around 1523 and was about seventeen when she became Henry's wife in 1540.

Henry was probably captivated by Katherine's beauty and charm, but he was perhaps also entranced by her youth. It signalled fertility and offered the promise of a second son to secure the Tudor succession. When Katherine married Henry, his only surviving son Edward was only two years old and, given that Henry's own elder brother had died as a teenager, the king must have been deeply concerned about the future of his dynasty. Katherine's family was highly fertile: she herself was one of about six children, and her father had ten siblings. Moreover, whereas Anne of Cleves' physical appearance had indicated to Henry that she was not a virgin, Katherine's slim figure confirmed that she was a virgin. Possibly because she was less than five feet in height - reportedly being 'diminutive' in stature - and he was a tall man of over six feet inches, on his wedding night Henry seems to have failed to discern that his new wife was not a virgin as he had believed.



Modern historians have usually asserted that the new queen experienced conflict with her stepdaughter Mary Tudor. The Spanish ambassador reported that Katherine, offended because her stepdaughter had failed to treat her with the same respect shown to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, had ordered two of Mary's maids to be removed from her household. However, Chapuys reported in January that Mary had not visited the queen yet. He did report that the New Year gift sent by Mary had greatly pleased the queen. In May, Katherine approved the king's decision to grant his daughter permission to reside at court. Katherine also cooperated with Mary in arranging the royal couple's visit to Prince Edward. When viewed in full, the surviving evidence hardly suggests that Katherine and Mary disliked one another and it does not indicate that Mary resented her stepmother's supposed greed or frivolousness. It suggests that their initial relations were rocky, but seems to indicate that they later experienced cooperative relations with one another.

Katherine sought to be a kind and generous mistress. She granted both her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth, gifts of jewellery, and she also provided her niece-by-marriage Lady Margaret Douglas with jewels. The queen ensured that members of her family served in her household: her half-sister, for example, was the wife of Katherine's vice-chamberlain. One or two scholars have opined that Katherine was disliked by her husband's courtiers and failed to inspire loyalty; but given her youth, inexperience and newness at court, this is hardly surprising. Moreover, there is no conclusive evidence that she was unpopular or widely disliked. Chapuys was sympathetic in his reports of her, and like Jane Seymour her queenship was grounded in submission to her husband's authority, as her motto 'No Other Will But His' confirmed.

She was usually successful in the performance of her royal duties. In November 1540, she wrote to the archbishop of York requesting that he provide her chaplain with an advowson of the York archdeaconery, although she was unsuccessful. On several occasions Katherine successfully interceded; in late March she requested pardons for Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir John Wallop, and in October she successfully beseeched her husband to pardon Helen Page. Katherine may also have been involved in the sending of clothing to the condemned Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, who was imprisoned in the Tower. Katherine was a loyal presence at Henry's side. In March, the king and queen travelled to Greenwich by barge and were granted by the saluting of the Tower cannons and the firing of ships' guns along the Thames, in the eyes of the chronicler Charles Wriothesley 'a goodly sight'.


Above: The Tower of London, where Katherine was imprisoned and executed.

Unknown to her husband, Katherine had a murky past. As a young girl she had resided in the household of her step-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. In 1536, the Dowager Duchess arranged for a musician, Henry Manox, to provide the thirteen-year-old Katherine with music lessons. When Katherine's interrogators learned of her relations with Manox, they assumed that she was responsible for his seduction of her. Sixteenth-century observers viewed young women as sexually insatiable, believing that they were 'desirous to be married... to the end that they may be fruitful'. They were believed to provoke rape and were viewed as experiencing pleasure in it. If a woman was involved in sexual relations against her will, and subsequently fell pregnant, it was held that she could not have been raped. 

Katherine's music master was in a position of authority over her. He entreated Katherine to secretly meet with him, where he fondled her and, although she showed reluctance, he reported that she was 'content' for him to do so. As Laura Gowing has noted, Manox's confession 'shows no signs of the sense of guilty self-implication' that appears regularly in women's testimony. When the dowager duchess discovered Katherine's relationship with Manox, she beat her step-granddaughter several times and warned them never to meet together again. Two years later, in 1538, Katherine was acquainted with Francis Dereham, who was perhaps a gentleman usher to the dowager duchess. 

Whether Katherine was in love with Dereham is a question that has not often been debated. Most historians have assumed that theirs was a love affair, but as Warnicke notes, none of Katherine's later testimony suggests that she enjoyed Dereham's pursuit of her. The interrogators failed to ask her whether she had consented to Dereham's sexual advances. Katherine answered this, however, by confirming that Dereham's actions constituted 'importune forcement, and in a manner, violence, rather than of her own free consent and will'. Rather than proclaiming her knowledge of contraception, Katherine's comment 'a woman might meddle with a man and yet conceive no child unless she would for herself' can be viewed as 'a coded statement about her feelings for Dereham rather than a reference to birth control' (Warnicke). Contemporaries believed that females should enjoy sexual intercourse in order to successfully conceive. If Katherine had no wish to have sexual intercourse with Dereham, then she would have believed that she was forced to please him and would therefore not have enjoyed the experience. This explains her later denial that she was ever Dereham's wife. The church required that the marriage vows were freely given, rather than coerced.



Dereham's arrival at court in the spring of 1541 complicated matters for Katherine. Aware of the potential danger of his presence, she admonished him to keep silent about their former relationship and placated him with gifts of money in a misguided attempt to buy his silence. Perhaps fearful about the possibility that the king would discover that she was not a virgin, the queen agreed to meet with Thomas Culpeper, her distant kinsman, that spring. Culpeper was an experienced courtier and had an unfavourable reputation as a murderer and a rapist. Whether he deserved this reputation is uncertain, but certainly he was well aware of the treacherous nature of court intrigue. Simply by meeting with Culpeper in private, regardless of her intentions, Katherine placed herself in a position of great danger. Contemporaries warned that wives should not meet with men who were not their husbands. By meeting with Culpeper in secret, Katherine invited suspicion and her motives were to be interpreted in the worst possible light.

Possibly Culpeper had initially approached Lady Rochford, Katherine's attendant, because he was aware that she was closest to the queen on account of her position as Lady of the Bedchamber. Margaret Morton, who served Katherine, later reported that Lady Rochford was to bear the blame for Katherine's actions. The queen provided Culpeper with a velvet cap at their first meeting, perhaps as a reward for his promise to keep her childhood secret. Certainly, the timing of his meeting with Katherine was suspicious. In the spring of 1541, when they first met, Dereham arrived at court and openly bragged of his former sexual relationship with the queen, even claiming that, were the king to die, he would be sure to marry Katherine. At around the same time, Henry fell seriously ill and closed his doors to Katherine for several days, later inviting rumours that he had been displeased with her and had been considering annulling their marriage. It is often not appreciated how perilous Katherine's position was in the spring of 1541. As rumours emerged about her past, in the midst of her husband's incapacity, Katherine sought to silence those who knew the truth of her childhood.

The court departed on the northern progress in June and Katherine met with Culpeper on several occasions. At some point the queen wrote a letter to Culpeper, perhaps with the assistance of Lady Rochford given that the style of handwriting changes several words in. Interestingly, the letter was never mentioned in the indictments or by resident ambassadors at court, thus endowing it with mystery. Katherine's intentions cannot easily be read from the letter alone. The elaborate style and flowery sentences have usually been viewed as evidence of the queen's love for Culpeper, but the phrases were in keeping with those used in the period. Warnicke has suggested that the closing phrase, 'yours as long as life endures', provides evidence that danger and death, rather than love and romance, were on Katherine's mind at the time. She was surely well aware of Anne Boleyn's execution and knew that her actions could be interpreted in the same light. Unsurprisingly, she eventually informed Lady Rochford to instruct Culpeper not to meet with her again. 

Certainly Culpeper reported later how nervous she had been in their meetings. She had instructed Lady Rochford to remain closely nearby as a chaperone, perhaps assuming that the older woman's presence would add an air of respectability to her meetings with Culpeper. Much of the queen's ladies' later evidence was speculative. Margaret Morton believed that Katherine had looked out of a window with an expression of lust directed towards Culpeper, but one wonders why the queen's attendants did not inform the king or his council of their suspicions at the time. More likely, having heard in the wake of Katherine's downfall that she had not been a virgin when she became queen, they viewed her meetings with Culpeper in this light. Viewing her as a loose, promiscuous woman, they believed that her nighttime meetings must surely have been sexually motivated rather than anything else. Yet the evidence is mostly ambiguous. 

When the council discovered Katherine's past and interrogated her, she reacted with dismay and fell into a 'vehement rage', sobbing and weeping. Why her past came to light at this time cannot be known with certainty. Several historians have interpreted this as evidence of a court conspiracy led by the enemies of the Catholic Howards in an attempt to bring down the queen, a theory supported by the informer John Lascelles' devout Protestant faith. More likely the queen was caught up in circumstances beyond her control. In the spring her husband had fallen dangerously ill, prompting rumours of his imminent demise, and at the same time her former lover had arrived at court, boasting that he had previously enjoyed a sexual relationship with her and was hopeful of marrying her. Culpeper, perhaps hearing these rumours, approached the queen and was rewarded with gifts. She had granted Dereham money in a bid to buy his silence; it was perhaps the same with Culpeper. If so, Katherine's gift-giving was of no use.

Both Katherine and Culpeper denied that they had engaged in sexual intercourse, although Culpeper claimed that she was 'dying of love' for him and admitted he had sought sexual relations with her. He was executed alongside Dereham at Tyburn in December. Unlike Anne Boleyn, Katherine was not given the benefit of a public trial in which to proclaim her innocence. She and Lady Rochford were condemned by Act of Attainder and were executed within the walls of the Tower on 13 February 1542. The two women 'made the most godly and Christian end', asking the onlookers to pray for them and amend their own ungodly lives.

There is very little evidence for Katherine Howard's adultery. She admitted to a sexual relationship with Francis Dereham, and confirmed that, as a young girl, she had allowed the musician Henry Manox to fondle her. The interrogators failed to ask Katherine what she and Culpeper discussed in their lengthy meetings on the court progress, perhaps because they assumed that the two had committed adultery.  It is entirely possible, as Warnicke has suggested, that they discussed her past, with Katherine seeking to buy his silence by offering him gifts and attention. Fearing the king's discovery of her sexual past, Katherine was condemned and executed, viewed by her contemporaries as a deceitful wife who had manipulated the unassuming king into marrying her. 

In modern times, Katherine has been 'slut shamed' by historians, thus perpetuating the misogyny of the time in which she lived. David Loades, in his study of the Tudor queens, frequently refers to Katherine as 'a slut' or 'a whore', while Alison Plowden dubbed her 'a natural born tart'. These historians failed to consider the true nature of Katherine's relationships, focusing on the fiction rather than the fact of her involvement with men. As a young girl of thirteen, she had been seduced by Manox, who was in a position of authority over her, and two years later, she had been involved with Dereham, perhaps unwillingly. Then, she had married Henry VIII and had met with Culpeper in secret, not necessarily to commit adultery. By distorting the reality of her life, and ignoring the positive achievements of her queenship, modern historians have done Katherine a disservice. Dismissing her as an airheaded flirt or a scheming wanton perpetuates the misogyny and ignorance of Katherine's contemporaries. Despite advances made in historical scholarship, several historians continue to believe that she was born earlier than 1523, was immoral and scheming, and quarrelled with her stepdaughter out of spite.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Stereotyped Six Wives: Four: 'A Lady of Right Commendable Regard'


Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII of England
Lifetime: 22 September 1515 - 16 July 1557
Reigned: January 1540 - July 1540 (6 months)
Pregnancies: 0

In this new six-part series, I will be reexamining the lives and personalities of Henry VIII's six wives, seeking to portray their lives realistically in a process that discards prevailing stereotypes. Much scholarly work has been done on Henry's reign in recent decades, affording fresh insights into the politics and achievements of the period. Understandably, widespread interest in Henry's marital affairs remains unabated. Yet stereotypes continue to bedevil our knowledge of the wives of this most enigmatic king.

On 6 January 1540, Henry VIII married his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, at Greenwich Palace. The briefness of Anne's time as queen - six months - has left us only with scarce information about her character, her interests and the nature of her queenship. In popular culture she continues to be viewed as the 'Flanders Mare', an unattractive, unappealing woman who lacked the courtly accomplishments prized at Henry's court. The traditional story views Anne as celebrating her escape from the increasingly bloated Henry and considers that her fate rendered her the most fortunate of Henry's wives. However, the surviving evidence - much in Anne's own words - tells a very different tale of hope, disappointment and sorrow. Anne continued to regard herself as the rightful queen of England, which is perhaps understandable given her impressive lineage; after Katherine of Aragon, she was the most nobly born of Henry's consorts. Her relations with her successor Katherine Howard were perhaps more complex than usually believed and she was allegedly contemptuous of Henry's marriage to Katherine Parr. The French ambassador reported that Anne was much loved by her English subjects; sadly for Anne, this love was not shared by Henry VIII.

Above: Greenwich Palace. Anne of Cleves married Henry VIII there on 6 January 1540.

Anne was born on 22 September 1515, the daughter of Johann, duke of Cleves, and his wife Maria. The duchy of Cleves, located in the Holy Roman Empire, was of economic and military significance and was an important cultural centre. Anne's father employed musicians and showed favour to humanist scholars. Anne's mother was responsible for overseeing her education, which placed an emphasis on needlework and reading and writing in German. Shortly before her twelfth birthday, Anne was betrothed to Francois, heir to the duchy of Lorraine. This marriage would have enabled Anne to become a duchess, a position of prime political and social significance, enhancing her prestigious lineage and extending her family's power outwards. 

However, Anne was destined not to wed Francois. Within months of Jane Seymour's death, Henry VIII's privy councillors began considering foreign brides for their ageing monarch. Early on, Anne was considered as a candidate for Henry's hand. Christopher Mont, who served in the household of Thomas Cromwell, reported that everyone at the court of Cleves praised Anne's beauty: 'one said that she excelled the Duchess [of Milan] as the golden sun did the silver moon'. She was also reportedly demure and virtuous. In the summer of 1539, Henry VIII's court painter Hans Holbein arrived in Cleves to paint Anne. Nicholas Wotton, the resident English ambassador, confirmed that Holbein's representation of Anne was accurate. Other observers commented on Anne's physical attractiveness. The notion that Anne of Cleves was ugly, or even physically disfigured, is a later myth. Only in the following century did Bishop Burnet suggest that she was a 'Flanders mare'.


Above: The miniature that persuaded Henry VIII of Anne's beauty. 

Modern research has indicated that it was largely Henry VIII, rather than Cromwell, who was enthusiastic for the alliance with Cleves. In the face of combined Franco-Imperial hostility, marrying Anne appeared a shrewd move. In October 1539, the marriage treaty between England and Cleves was signed and Anne departed for England the following month. On 31 December, she arrived at Rochester in stormy weather, and the following day was greeted by the man who was to become her husband. Henry's behaviour, in greeting Anne in disguise, was not unusual: as Warnicke has explained, he was simply following the prevailing custom of Renaissance monarchs. However, the meeting did not go as expected. Upon sight of Anne, the king doubted that she was truly a virgin. He based his judgement on 'the looseness of her breasts and other tokens', an accepted sixteenth-century understanding of virginity. At the time, contemporaries followed Castiglione's belief that 'outward beauty is a true sign of inner goodness' and 'for the most part the ugly are also evil'.

Maidens were expected to have slim figures, thus Anne's fuller figure caused Henry to worry that, perhaps, his prospective bride was no virgin. The ambassador of Cleves' failure to deliver a copy of the Lorraine contract fuelled the king's concerns. As Warnicke suggests, because Henry believed that Anne was truly the wife of Francois, she 'had therefore been symbolically deprived of her maidenhead'. Anne's ambassadors, however, informed Cromwell that she was not Francois' wife and promised to have a copy of the contract sent to England. Two days later, Anne became Henry's wife. She had been publicly greeted by Henry some days earlier at Blackheath Common in a lavish welcome attended by the nobility of the land. The chronicler Hall referred to her impressive dress and her long golden hair. Contemporaries were impressed by their new queen's dignity and gracious nature, and de Marillac, the resident French ambassador, reported that she was much-loved by her English subjects, who esteemed her as the kindest queen they had ever had.

Anne's kind nature, however, was not sufficient to win the heart of Henry VIII. Believing her to be Francois' wife, he was later to admit that he had failed to consummate his new marriage. Far from being ignorant, as she is often depicted, Anne endeavoured to communicate with Cromwell about her marital difficulties. Cromwell informed the earl of Rutland, Anne's lord chamberlain, to behave more pleasantly towards Henry, perhaps hoping that her gracious behaviour would encourage the king to consummate the marriage. It was to no avail. The king suffered relative impotence with her. As Warnicke has noted: 'contemporary medical experts, who were unaware of psychogenic sexual dysfunction, blamed witchcraft for causing relative impotence'.

Above: Thomas Cromwell. He was executed on 28 July 1540, merely weeks after the annulment of Anne's marriage. 

Henry's failure to consummate his union caused Anne dismay and concern. As noted, she had communicated to Cromwell her concerns about the king's behaviour. Shrewdly, she maintained her dignity and performed her queenly functions with success. She accompanied her husband to Westminster in February by barge and was festively greeted by the Londoners. Anne enjoyed warm relations with her stepchildren, as displayed by her decision to order her stepson Edward a bonnet; while the seeds of her long friendship with Mary Tudor were sown. At her coronation in October 1553, Mary provided Anne with a prominent place in the procession, sitting alongside her other stepdaughter Elizabeth. 

Although she was respected and loved by her subjects, Anne's position was perilous. Her last public appearance alongside her husband was at the May Day celebrations, and shortly afterwards she learned of Henry's growing infatuation with her maid-of-honour Katherine Howard. In June, Anne revealed to Harst, the Cleves ambassador, that the king's council had requested her removal to Richmond Palace, and she admitted to him that she feared that Katherine of Aragon's fate would become her own.

Anne consented to the annulment of her marriage, but it is hardly likely that she consented happily. Her ambassador later reported that she had screamed and cried loudly, thus breaking his heart. Her settlement was generous: she was granted possession of Richmond and Bletchingley Manor for life (and later Hever Castle); precedence over all of Henry's subjects except himself, his children and his new wife; and the allowance of 8000 nobles for the maintenance of her household. However, her correspondence with Cleves was censored, thus dishonouring her. 

How Anne felt about Henry's hasty marriage to her former attendant Katherine Howard is not known. Six months later, at the New Year celebrations, Anne was invited to court and publicly greeted the new queen, who later bestowed upon her the gift of a ring and two small dogs. It is often assumed that Anne bore no ill-will towards Katherine, but the truth is perhaps more complex. As Elizabeth Norton has suggested: 'Despite her acquiescence, Anne always believed herself to be the legitimate wife of the king and the true queen. In spite of this she was, first and foremost, a survivor and, if the price of that survival was a denial of her status in exchange for a life of opulent retirement, she was prepared to play along, even if that meant accepting a new lower status beside her former maid, Queen Catherine Howard'.

More likely, Anne was biding her time. The annulment of her marriage, in her eyes, had brought great shame upon herself and her family. Her correspondence with her family was heavily censored and her position remained, to put it mildly, highly ambiguous. Even the king's subjects were uncertain how to view the former queen. Rumours spread that Anne had been delivered of a son in the summer of 1541, which indicates that some, at least, continued to view her as Henry's true wife. Chapuys reported that she was delighted at the news of Katherine Howard's downfall, probably because she viewed it as indicative of her return to queenship. She was to be highly disappointed. Henry married Katherine Parr, rather than Anne, and the former queen was reportedly in great despair at the news. She allegedly made negative remarks about the new queen's appearance.


It is simplistic and probably erroneous to view Anne of Cleves as lucky, the most fortunate of Henry's wives. She herself did not view her situation that way. Not only had Henry publicly dishonoured her by annulling her marriage and marrying her attendant, but her situation as the king's 'sister' was uncomfortably ambiguous. When Henry failed to correspond with her she reportedly became melancholy. Anne later informed her brother that she felt like a stranger in England and longed to return to Cleves.

Moreover, her financial situation experienced strain following Henry's death. In 1547 Edward VI's council confiscated her manors of Bletchingley and Richmond, leading her to request her brother's assistance. Her situation remained unresolved when Mary succeeded her brother on the throne. Anne's final years were further troubled by household disputes. She died shortly before her forty-second birthday, on 16 July 1557, at her manor of Chelsea, and was later buried at Westminster Abbey. Authors, writing in memory of her, praised her gentleness, her household management, and her piety.

Anne of Cleves was a popular queen, much respected by her subjects, and has usually been viewed in modern times as the unattractive but kindly fourth wife of Henry VIII, who had the luckiest fate of all his wives. While it might appear that way today, Anne herself did not regard her situation so positively. She longed to be queen of England and was greatly distressed when Henry married Katherine Howard and, later, Katherine Parr. As Norton suggests, she continued to regard herself as the rightful queen and believed the annulment of her marriage had inflicted shame and dishonour upon her. Marriage was the primary vocation of sixteenth-century women, in particular royal women, and thus the annulment was viewed as a failure, a perversion of Anne's destiny and a slur upon her womanhood. She longed to return to her home country, believing herself an anomaly in England. This kindly, virtuous woman, who was reportedly attractive, has been much maligned and misrepresented in modern times. Perhaps of all of Henry's queens, Anne of Cleves remains the most stereotyped. This is a pity, for the evidence suggests that she was popular, much-praised, and in her short tenure as queen, she enjoyed success in her queenly role.  

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Stereotyped Six Wives: Three: 'As Gentle A Lady'


Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII of England
Lifetime: c. 1508/9 - 24 October 1537
Reigned: May 1536 - October 1537 (1 year, 5 months)
Pregnancies: 1
Edward VI of England: 12 October 1537 - 6 July 1553

In this new six-part series, I will be reexamining the lives and personalities of Henry VIII's six wives, seeking to portray their lives realistically in a process that discards prevailing stereotypes. Much scholarly work has been done on Henry's reign in recent decades, affording fresh insights into the politics and achievements of the period. Understandably, widespread interest in Henry's marital affairs remains unabated. Yet stereotypes continue to bedevil our knowledge of the wives of this most enigmatic king. 

Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII, became Queen of England upon her predecessor's execution for treason in May 1536. An unassuming woman in her late twenties, Jane is perhaps the most elusive of Henry's queens. Scarcely any evidence survives for her true personality. She was Henry's wife for merely seventeen months; yet her period as queen was tumultuous, in that it witnessed the restoration of Mary Tudor to favour, the unrest of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the long-awaited birth of a healthy son to the king. Jane has attracted few biographers because of the shortage of evidence concerning her. In many ways, though, the mystery of Jane Seymour makes her as fascinating a person of study as Henry's other wives. Whether Henry VIII truly did love Jane, his 'entirely beloved' third wife, as legend has it, is an issue that has provoked considerable debate. In actuality, the tantalising evidence we have suggests that the story is more complex. Jane's queenship was passive and her famously meek, subdued character may have owed far more to the control of her domineering husband than is usually considered.

Above: Hampton Court Palace, where Jane Seymour died merely twelve days after the birth of her son.

Jane was the fifth child and eldest daughter of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. Twenty-nine ladies walked at her funeral procession in 1537 to mark her age: whether that means she had reached her twenty-ninth birthday, or whether she was in her twenty-ninth year, is uncertain, but it indicates that she was born either in 1508 or 1509. As with Anne Boleyn, Jane's father was much favoured by Henry VIII. Sir John Seymour, a 'gentle, courteous man', had been knighted by Henry VII at the battle of Blackheath in 1497 and later accompanied Henry VIII on the French campaign in 1513. By 1532 he had become a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and had acted as Sheriff of Wiltshire and Dorset. Sometime in the late 1520s, Jane arrived at court to serve Queen Katherine of Aragon. It is often assumed, with little supporting evidence, that Jane was loyal to Katherine and modelled herself on her. Aside from Jane's preference for gable hoods, which Katherine also liked, and Jane's later friendship with Katherine's daughter Mary, there is barely anything to suggest that Jane particularly admired Katherine or empthasised with her during the annulment proceedings.

Although she is rarely termed stupid, Jane is often regarded as being poorly educated. Indeed, there is no evidence that she had an aptitude for languages, and unlike Anne Boleyn she was not selected to participate in court masques, which suggests that her dancing and musical ability were unexceptional. Yet she was renowned for her talent in needlework and embroidery, with some of her work surviving well into the following century. Her contemporaries were also not especially enthusiastic about her appearance. Polydore Vergil described her flatteringly as 'a woman of the utmost charm both in appearance and character', but the Spanish ambassador was of the opinion that she was 'of middle stature and no great beauty', with a 'pure white' complexion. He also reported rumours that she was both 'haughty' and 'proud'. 

Indeed, it is the very absence of evidence which makes it so difficult to grasp Jane's true personality. Most historians often refer to her piety and virtue, but aside from Luther's belief that she was 'an enemy of the gospel' - in other words, she was a devout adherent of the Catholic faith - there is barely anything to suggest that she was especially pious. In contrast to Anne Boleyn, who assisted religious reformers, or Katherine Parr, who wrote evangelical works of devotion, Jane was entirely conventional in her religious devotions and may not have been interested in taking an active role in religious politics. The absence of her involvement in court masques and dances, or poetry celebrating her talents, can tentatively be interpreted to mean that she was not talented musically or artistically. 


For whatever reason, by early 1536 Jane Seymour remained unwed. At the age of twenty-six, it was certainly strange that her father had not arranged an advantageous marriage alliance for her, and even more unusual given that she was the eldest daughter. Her younger sister, Elizabeth, had married in 1531 and later remarried, to the son of Thomas Cromwell. Why no marriage had been arranged for Jane remains a mystery. We can only wonder how she herself felt about this: did she passively accept her fate as God's will, something to be accepted with resignation? Did she rebel, passionately hoping for an excellent marriage one day? We can only guess. Jane's fortunes, however, took a dramatically unexpected turn in the spring of 1536. Devastated by his wife's miscarriage, and uncertain whether his second marriage had won him divine favour, Henry VIII was susceptible to a new flirtation. For reasons that have puzzled historians for centuries, the object of his affections was Jane Seymour, the unassuming and apparently unremarkable attendant of the queen. 

Historians have generally suggested that Henry VIII was attracted to Jane because she 'was unquestionably virginal' and because 'there was certainly no threatening sexuality about her'. In short, it was her virtue, her piety and her goodness that charmed the ageing king. By extension, these same historians seem to imply that these were qualities decidedly lacking in Anne Boleyn, thus conveniently ignoring the considerable evidence of Anne's piety and the importance she placed on her virtue. While Henry may have been captivated by Jane's demeanour, there may be a darker story at place here.

As queen, Jane selected the motto 'Bound to Obey and Serve', thus confirming her submission to Henry VIII's will both as her husband and as her king. How far the king himself directed his new wife in this, however, should be considered. Henry VIII had been dangerously obsessed by Anne Boleyn, an assertive, educated and independent young woman who had refused to become involved with him because it offended her piety and endangered her virtue. Anne's inability to provide the much-desired male heir had gradually reduced Henry VIII's burning love to burning hatred, leaving him with a strong desire to destroy her and rejoicing in her execution, to the surprise even of Ambassador Chapuys. With Jane, he had no wish to be denied and no wish to be told 'no'. Jane's motto confirmed her husband's control of her and signalled to the world that passivity and submission, rather than the proactiveness of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, would characterise Jane's rule. 

Above: Edward VI of England was born on 12 October 1537, only child of Jane Seymour.

Just as it is problematic to view Anne Boleyn as directly responsible for Katherine of Aragon's rustication from court and ill-treatment, so it is erroneous to view Jane as responsible for Anne's brutal end, as Victorian historians often did. In questioning her morals and condemning her actions, as Agnes Strickland did, these historians failed to understand the position Jane was in and the character of the man she married. Like Anne, she simply could not say no. With the passing of time, Henry had become increasingly autocratic and, on the single occasion that Jane did dare to voice her true opinion, she was brutally put in her place by her irascible husband, who warned her to consider her predecessor's fate before involving herself in affairs of state. There is scarcely any evidence for Jane's supposed love and admiration of Queen Katherine, and there is next to no evidence that she was hostile to Anne or resented her rise to queenship. While she did offer friendship to Mary Tudor once she had married Henry, this is understandable given their closeness in age and their shared devotion to the Catholic faith. In 1536, perhaps Jane, mindful of Henry's rejection of Anne and indifference to his second daughter, wisely judged it best not to antagonise her husband by showing marked favour to her stepdaughter Elizabeth. 

The absence of evidence for her inner feelings means that we cannot suggest that Jane was hostile to Anne Boleyn or deliberately sought to bring her down because of her aversion to the reformed faith favoured by Anne or because of her supposed loyalty to Katherine. In rejecting Henry's advances, in refusing to accept presents of money from him, in behaving 'modestly' rather than flirtatiously, perhaps Jane intended to signal a lack of interest that may well have been genuine. Her true feelings for Henry are usually ignored in the rush to condemn her supposedly callous behaviour. Jane Seymour's personality and motivations are swathed in mystery and remain largely inscrutable. She may have been ambitious, but equally she may have felt that she had no choice, as Katherine Parr did when presented with an unwanted marriage proposal by the king in 1543. Perhaps Jane resented Anne, but equally she may have accepted her as her mistress and wished to show her no ill-will. What does seem likely, however, is that Jane was coached by her ambitious relatives to attract the besotted king. Certainly they profited handsomely from her rise: her brother Edward became Viscount Beauchamp and her brother Thomas was knighted. It is uncertain whether Jane was a willing participant in the schemes of 1536 or whether she was manipulated by her family to serve their own ends.

Jane was never crowned as queen and her reign was entirely passive, as Pamela Gross noted in her academic study of Jane. She has usually been credited with restoring Mary Tudor to favour, but it is more likely that it was Henry himself who approved and brought about his daughter's return to court only after she had grovelled to him for her disobedience: 'I beseech your Majesty to countervail my transgressions with my repentance for the same'. Jane may have been sympathetic to Mary but she was not responsible for the latter's return to favour. Even if she had wished to enjoy Mary's company, Jane would not have forgotten for a second that her primary duty as queen was to provide a male heir, and would have acknowledged that Mary's position as the bastard of an unlawful union was a foreboding reminder of her own perilous position. As Henry himself warned Jane ominously: 'She ought to study the welfare and exaltation of her own children, if she had any by him, instead of looking out for the good of others'. 


Despite the oft-repeated legend that Jane Seymour was Henry VIII's most beloved wife, there is, in fact, surprisingly little evidence of his love for her dating from her own lifetime. As noted earlier, when she had voiced sympathy for Mary her husband had bluntly advised her to concern herself with producing an heir herself. If the story of her plea for the abbeys to be saved from dissolution is true, then Henry's response, in brutally reminding her of Anne's fate, is indicative of a bullying husband seeking to control a wife and prevent her from becoming unruly. Within days of his marriage to Jane, Henry VIII reportedly was acquainted with two beautiful women and voiced regret that he had not met them before he had remarried. The Second Act of Succession, which was passed in the summer of 1536, vested the succession either in Jane Seymour's offspring or in the offspring the king might have with any future wife. How Jane viewed this Act cannot be known, but as the months passed without a pregnancy, she must have lived in considerable anxiety, if not fear.

Described by Cromwell as 'a most virtuous lady', Jane conformed entirely to Henry's wishes. If she had ambition, she suppressed it. If she held opinions, she chose not to voice them. If she disagreed with her husband's policies, she did not inform him. How far Jane willingly assented to her marginalisation, how wholeheartedly she embraced her motto 'Bound to Obey and Serve', are questions that simply cannot be answered. Yet she had witnessed Katherine of Aragon's determined refusal to obey Henry's wishes, and she had heard of the ill-treatment inflicted on the proud queen in consequence. Jane's own marriage had been made in blood: her former mistress had been imprisoned, tried and executed in less than three weeks mainly because she had failed to give her husband a son. 

Jane's queenship is characterised by most historians as passive, but they have not usually considered whether she was willing in the circumscribing of her queenly authority. In concerning herself solely with domestic affairs, Jane sought to please her husband, but his threatening behaviour on several occasions towards her was a chilling reminder of the danger she faced if she displeased him. By giving birth to her son Edward on 12 October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace, Jane earned Henry's undying love and appreciation, but during her own lifetime he never demonstrated the constant passion he felt for Anne Boleyn, or the unswerving devotion he experienced for Katherine Howard. In her own lifetime, Jane was a cipher. During her brief tenure as queen, she walked on a knife edge. Her two predecessors had been rusticated and had died, alone and shamed, for their failures to give birth to a son. This thought must have constantly been in Jane's mind, and her overriding emotion at providing the male heir in the autumn of 1537 may well have been relief.

Philippa Gregory's new novel The Taming of the Queen, which describes the life of Katherine Parr as queen, focuses on the circumscribing of the queen's authority, the restriction of her power and the utter submission of the queen to her husband. This portrayal could, with some fairness, apply to Jane Seymour. Her reign has been viewed as unremarkable and devoid of achievements, with the exception of Prince Edward's birth. Historians have appreciated that, outside of her immediate household, the queen was little more than a cipher, never exercising the militant authority of Katherine of Aragon or seeking to influence religious policies, as did Anne Boleyn. But they have, tellingly, failed to consider how willing Jane was in the restrictions she faced. Perhaps she willingly accepted them, perhaps she accepted her submission as the price of her queenship. Or perhaps she resented the limits imposed on her and bridled when faced with her husband's suffocating presence.

There is no evidence to suggest that Jane was unquestionably hostile to Anne Boleyn and sought her destruction, nor is there evidence that she admired and revered Katherine of Aragon. There is scarcely any evidence for Henry's supposed love for her. It was only after her death that Jane became 'entirely beloved' and her memory revered. Only in 1544 was she celebrated in Holbein's painting as Henry's one true wife, rather than Katherine Parr, his queen at the time. Jane Seymour's queenship was circumscribed, 'tamed'. She remains a mystery because she was a cipher at court. What emerges from the sources is the strong likelihood that it was Henry VIII who was responsible for holding her in submission and curtailing her authority to ensure that she pleased him and conformed to his will. 



Friday, 23 October 2015

The Stereotyped Six Wives: Two: A Dangerous Obsession
























Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII of England
Lifetime: c. 1507 - 19 May 1536
Reigned: May 1533 - May 1536 (3 years)
Pregnancies: 3 
Elizabeth I of England: 7 September 1533 - 24 March 1603
Stillborn child: June/July 1534
Miscarried son: January 1536

In this new six-part series, I will be reexamining the lives and personalities of Henry VIII's six wives, seeking to portray their lives realistically in a process that discards prevailing stereotypes. Much scholarly work has been done on Henry's reign in recent decades, affording fresh insights into the politics and achievements of the period. Understandably, widespread interest in Henry's marital affairs remains unabated. Yet stereotypes continue to bedevil our knowledge of the wives of this most enigmatic king. 

The historiography of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second consort, is paradoxical. More has been written about Anne than any of Henry's other wives, yet she remains the most maligned of his queens. An explanation for this can perhaps be found in the polarising nature of the surviving sources. Protestant literature that approved of the break with Rome and celebrated the accession of Elizabeth I presented Anne as 'that most holy Queen', a charitable and pious reformer who had married the king solely to further the reformed faith. By contrast, Catholic polemical works depicted Anne as a monstrous vixen who had vindictively encouraged Henry to destroy both his first marriage and the Church in England. In these accounts, the bewitching Anne was indeed guilty of the crimes of which she was charged and was punished with a shameful death for her sins.

It is unfortunate that the sources concerning Anne's life are so polarised, for they strip away the queen's humanity, presenting her as a figure not wholly human. In the Protestant works she is saintly, whereas in Counter-Reformation histories she is less than human, a worshipper of the devil. Only with difficulty can historians navigate their way through the conflicting stories of Anne's life and reach a realistic understanding of Anne as a person and as a queen. The true story is a sinister one of fatal obsession rather than love.

Hever Castle
Above: Hever Castle in Kent, where Anne Boleyn may have been born.

Anne was the younger daughter of the diplomat and courtier Sir Thomas Boleyn and his wife Lady Elizabeth Howard. While it is a myth that she was the most nobly born of Henry's English wives, her pedigree was impressive. On her mother's side, she was the niece of the Earl of Surrey and granddaughter of the Duke of Norfolk, while on her father's side she was related to the earls of Ormond. Anne's date of birth and birthplace are unknown. Traditionally it has been suggested that she was born either at Blickling Hall in Norfolk or at Hever Castle in Kent, but several of Anne's relatives were of the opinion that her birthplace was London, perhaps Norfolk House at Lambeth. The majority of modern historians favour a birthdate of circa 1501; however, the Elizabethan antiquarian William Camden confirmed that Anne was born in 1507, while the Duchess of Feria informed her biographer Henry Clifford that Anne had not yet reached twenty-nine years of age when she was beheaded in 1536. 

Cardinal Wolsey himself allegedly referred to Anne in 1523 as a 'foolish girl', while Cardinal Reginald Pole described Anne as a 'girl' when Henry VIII fell in love with her. In 1534, a year after her marriage, Anne was described by the Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys as being 'in a state of health and of an age to have many more children'. While she could have had more children, the adjective 'many' is questionable if she were actually 33 or 34 years old. Finally, when Anne was sent abroad to the court of Margaret of Austria, she was described by the regent as being 'so pleasing in her youthful age'. In the sixteenth-century, children of the nobility and gentry were routinely sent to noble households at an early age to acquire an education. Sir Thomas, an ambitious and well-educated diplomat, surely had similar hopes for his daughter. Recognising that she was 'bright and toward', it is entirely credible that he arranged for her departure to Europe at the age of only six years old. Perhaps it was only in 1519 or 1520 that Anne formally served as a maid of honour. 

From an early age, Anne would have been brought up to value her lineage. The Boleyns were not nobility, but they were an ambitious and enterprising family that had consistently married well. Sir Thomas's marriage to Elizabeth Howard had been a considerable achievement for him in that it allied the Boleyns with the Howards, the premier ducal family in England. The Howards, moreover, were closely linked to the Tudor dynasty, for Queen Elizabeth of York's younger sister Anne had married Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey and later duke of Norfolk. It is entirely credible that Anne Boleyn was named after her aunt. 

Bernard van Orley - Portrait of Margareta van Oostenrijk - WGA16689.jpg
Above: Margaret of Austria, duchess of Savoy (left) and Queen Claude of France (right). As a young girl, Anne Boleyn was closely acquainted with both ladies.

It is usually asserted that Anne's older sister Mary also accompanied her to France, but the list naming the maids of honour serving Mary Tudor when she married Louis XII of France in 1514 referred only to one 'M. Boleyn' rather than two. The initial 'M' referred to the title mistress rather than one's Christian name. A later inventory of ladies remaining in France referred to 'Mademoiselle Boleyn' which, again, almost certainly referred to Anne. Why Sir Thomas elected to send Anne rather than Mary to serve in the courts of Europe can perhaps be explained by the brightness and shrewd intellect that Anne already possessed. The ambitious Thomas was perhaps also hoping to wed Mary to a high-ranking English nobleman. Sending Anne abroad, rather than Mary, cannot necessarily be read as evidence of Thomas' preference for Anne or as evidence that Mary was intellectually inferior to her sister.

Anne's childhood in Europe profoundly influenced her worldviews and her inner character. Like Katherine of Aragon, she was acquainted with strong ruling women that were more than capable of governing kingdoms. Margaret of Austria was the shrewd regent of the Netherlands during Anne's stay there, and when Anne departed to France to serve Queen Mary she was acquainted with Marguerite de Navarre, sister of Francois I. The duke of Norfolk, Anne's uncle, was later to inform Marguerite that his niece was 'as affectionate to your highness as if she were your own sister, and likewise to the queen... My opinion is that she is your good and assured friend'. Two years later, in 1535, Anne herself informed Marguerite that 'her greatest wish, next to having a son, was to see you again'. While it is difficult to uncover the true nature of relations between Anne and Marguerite, it seems likely that the young Anne admired Marguerite. She was both an author and a patron of humanists and reformers. Her most famous work was Heptameron, which has been interpreted as a social and political critique, combining religiosity (pious dedication and high moral standards) with 'lurid voluptuousness'.  

If Anne was influenced by Marguerite, then she would have grew to value her own ideas, to think critically of the world around her, and to place a great emphasis on inner piety and spiritual enlightenment. Anne also served Claude, wife of Francois I. Claude was renowned for her piety, virtue and goodness, and she did not encourage the licentious intrigues that pervaded the French court. As a favoured companion of the French queen, Anne would have understood that female virtue was her greatest prize. She likely came to understand her own worth and arrived at a deep understanding of herself as a woman. Influenced from a young age by strong women on the continent, including the capable Margaret of Austria, the sophisticated and educated Marguerite de Navarre, and the virtuous Queen Claude, Anne Boleyn grew up to be a remarkable woman.

She was not the most beautiful of women, but she had something more. She valued her own ideas, she read widely in secular and religious literature, and she developed an intense fascination with the reformed faith. Eric Ives has speculated that Anne underwent something of a religious enlightenment while in France, and it is certainly possible given her receptivity to the beginnings of the reformed faith that were developing across Europe. Anne also became a highly skilled musician, an excellent dancer and an intellectual with a keen interest in the Renaissance movement. Although she had not been groomed for queenship like Katherine of Aragon, she was in many respects a highly suitable candidate for royalty given her piety, her intellect, her sensitivity to the artistic movement and her interest in the Reformation. Moreover, she came from a fertile family and, while not blessed with outstandingly good looks, was physically attractive. The Venetian ambassador recorded that she was of medium stature, with a swarthy complexion, a wide mouth, and 'black and beautiful' eyes. Her brown hair was lustrous and long and her hands finely formed.



Anne returned to England late in 1521. Her father had arranged a most advantageous marriage for her to James Butler, later ninth earl of Ormond, in a bid to settle the Boleyn-Butler dispute over the title of Ormond. An ambitious young lady who had been educated to advance her lineage, Anne would surely have been aware of the advantages presented to the Boleyn family by the alliance with the Butlers. For reasons that remain unsolved, however, the marriage did not take place. Around this time Anne was appointed to serve Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, and alongside her sister Mary and former mistress Mary Tudor, she appeared in a court masque in March 1522 in the role of Perseverance. If George Cavendish, gentleman usher of Cardinal Wolsey, is to be believed, Anne soon afterwards became acquainted with Henry Percy, heir to the earldom of Northumberland and the two fell in love with one another. He wrote that 'there grewe such a secret love between them that at lengthe they were ensured together intending to marry'. Percy was captivated by Anne's 'excellent behaviour and gesture'. He regarded Anne as 'a convenient wife', informing the enraged Cardinal thus when Wolsey discovered the secret relationship between them. Percy described Anne as being 'descended of right noble parentage' which, in truth, she was. Heartbroken, Percy was forced to separate Anne, and she seems to have been sent from court in disgrace.

As an assertive, intellectual young woman who valued her own ideas and was interested in both the Renaissance and the Reformation, Anne Boleyn attracted admirers. At some point she attracted the king himself. It is a lingering myth that Anne deliberately set out to become queen, calculatingly ensnaring the unsuspecting king and seducing him in a bid to become queen of England. If anything, the evidence indicates the exact opposite, as recent research has demonstrated. Anne may have been in love with Henry Percy and, when the king of England fell in love with her, she might not yet have recovered from the heartbreak she had endured over Percy. A charismatic, attractive woman, she provoked dangerous obsession in men who became interested in her, one of whom was the king, and another of whom was the musician Mark Smeaton. Only in the realm of fiction have these obsessions been interpreted in a sinister light, but it is possible that fiction, in this case, mirrors reality. 

For Henry's obsession with Anne was completely one-sided. She was not interested in becoming his mistress; neither did she, at least initially, wish to become queen. This perhaps is at odds with the admirable marital successes achieved by Boleyn ambition, but Anne had served several royal women on the continent and had been close to at least two of them. Her relations with Marguerite and Claude perhaps instilled in her a deep-seated loyalty to the traditions of monarchy. George Wyatt, a grandson of the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, confirmed in his biography of Anne that she bare great 'love to the queen [Katherine] whom she served, that was also a personage of great virtue'. Loyal to Queen Katherine, and well aware that her sister Mary had been discarded by the king once her period as his mistress was over, Anne had no wish to become queen of England, and by ignoring the king's relentless stream of letters she likely hoped that he would leave her alone.


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Above: Henry VIII wrote repeatedly to Anne beseeching her to become his love, but her replies were vague and she often neglected to reply, probably due to an earnest desire to be left alone.

However, Anne's behaviour served only to make the king more obsessive, often dangerously so. Nowadays his behaviour might be interpreted as stalking, which is what a handful of modern historians have interpreted it as. When she remained aloof, Henry reproached her by opining that her lack of enthusiasm 'seems a very poor return for the great love which I bear you'. She retreated from court to Hever and returned only in the company of her mother. Henry continued to entreat her 'earnestly to let me know expressly your whole mind as to the love between us'. Anne's replies, in reality, had not exactly suggested that she felt 'love' for him, as Henry disingenuously wrote. She surely knew that involvement with the king would constitute a betrayal of her mistress, and as Wyatt's evidence suggests, Anne was loyal to Katherine and had no wish to hurt her. Yet, in refusing to become Henry's mistress and in retreating from court in an attempt to escape his lust, Anne's situation only worsened. For the more she retreated, hoping that the king would respect her wishes to be left alone, the more his obsession was inflamed until it became fatal. Not, at this stage, fatal for Anne, but fatal for his kingdom and fatal for his first marriage. By the summer of 1527, Katherine was informed that her marriage was invalid on account of her previous marriage to Henry's brother Arthur. The king was certain that their lack of sons was because their marriage had offended God as an unclean union. 

Whether Anne was prepared for what was to befall her cannot be known with certainty. When she danced with Henry at a reception for the French ambassadors in May 1527, the court became aware that it was Sir Thomas Boleyn's younger, sophisticated daughter who would replace the beloved Katherine as queen of England. Anne's life became much harder around this time. Queen Katherine was reportedly 'much beloved in this kingdom' and the king himself, despite his desire to annul his first marriage, was well-liked by the people and respected by his courtiers. Who to blame, then, for the royal marital crisis? Anne herself. With the passing of time, in the exaggerated dispatches of ambassadors, the whispers of courtiers and the murmurs of discontent across the kingdom, Anne was gradually endowed with enormous power that was regarded as unthinkable in a woman. Her power was heinous, dark, supernatural: it was whispered that she had cast a spell on the unsuspecting king, manipulating him with the promises of sexual fulfillment to put aside his long-suffering wife and marry her, a younger woman, instead. Endowed with this unnatural power, Anne was figured as a witch, an enchanting siren who resorted to poisoning her enemies (including Bishop John Fisher in early 1531) and threatening the life of the Queen (that same year apparently wishing that all Spaniards were at the bottom of the sea). In short, she became a scapegoat for the annulment and a scapegoat for the king's relentless lust. 

Those who scapegoated her were ignorant of her admiration for Katherine, her love for Henry Percy and her insistent refusal to become involved with Henry. They either ignored, or were not aware, that Henry's obsession for her was lethal and could not be escaped from. She had sought to escape court, she had failed to reply to his letters, she had only given in after draining months of messages and gifts. She was an intelligent, shrewd and sophisticated young woman, but she placed great value on her own virtue and piety and had no desire to replace Katherine as queen. Whether her family respected her wishes and resigned themselves to the king's longing, or whether they actively encouraged her to cultivate his interest, cannot be known with certainty. But what seems clear is that Anne herself never set out to become queen and became the victim of a relentless campaign of hatred and lies beginning in the late 1520s and continuing to her death and beyond.


It is highly unlikely that Anne Boleyn had any initial desire to become queen of England. She sought to distance herself from Henry VIII's relentless obsession, but eventually resigned herself to her fate. 

In truth, Anne's individual involvement in the stages leading to the annulment was minor. As Warnicke has asserted: 'It is possible Henry... had considerably more control over their relationship than is sometimes alleged'. In his letters, he was able to deny her suits and requests, while comforting her during her absence from court in 1528. However, even if she had no desire to become queen, Anne seems to have gradually understood that she was a position to further the reformed faith. The Spanish ambassador described her and her brother George as 'more Lutheran than Luther himself', but Anne continued to respect the revered rituals and traditions of Catholicism. She read the Bible in the vernacular and increasingly afforded support to reformed scholars. Thomas Cranmer, who later became archbishop of Canterbury, was a chaplain of her family. Cranmer was later to confirm that he 'never had better opinion in woman, than I had in her'. She was also highly charitable as queen. The martyrologist John Foxe, writing in the reign of Elizabeth I, recorded: 'Also, how bountiful she was to the poor, passing not only the common example of other queens, but also the revenues almost of her estate... Again, what a zealous defender she was of Christ's gospel all the world doth know, and her acts do and will declare to the world's end'.

Given her receptivity to learned ideas on the Continent and her years of experience serving pious, virtuous royal women, it does not seem likely that Anne was the loose-living, vulgar woman of popular legend and the vitriolic dispatches of Ambassador Chapuys. Describing her as 'the concubine' or 'the whore', Chapuys believed that her primary ambition was to cause harm to Katherine and Princess Mary, asserting: 'the King's mistress has been heard to say that she will never rest until he [Henry] has had her [Katherine] put out of the way'. He had earlier opined that 'Anne might be further encouraged to execute her wicked design'. And yet Chapuys consistently refused to meet Anne and had no way of knowing her inner thoughts or the details of her conversations with Henry. Indeed, other evidence indicates that she was initially loyal to Katherine and, as queen, she consistently wrote to her stepdaughter Mary promising her that she would enjoy a favoured position at court if she would recognise that her father's marriage to Katherine was invalid. Henry's first wife had angrily referred to Anne as 'the scandal of Christendom' because, like her subjects, she blamed her husband's mistress rather than the king himself for the decision to break with Rome and the annulment of her marriage. But it seems unlikely that Anne was so consumed with hatred towards Katherine and Mary as Chapuys makes out that she would relentlessly plot their deaths.



Anne was close to her brother George and seems to have enjoyed warm relations with her mother Elizabeth. Her relationship with her older sister is uncertain, but Julia Fox's biography of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, intriguingly suggests that Anne was closer to her sister-in-law Jane than to her sister Mary. Although Antonia Fraser commented that Anne had no interest in developing close friendships with other women, Anne enjoyed a warm friendship with Elizabeth, Lady Worcester, and was initially on good terms with Lady Bridget Wingfield. She also concerned herself with the marriage of her young cousin Mary Howard, arranging an excellent alliance for her with Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII's bastard son by Bessie Blount. 

Anne's position during these years and during her queenship caused her grave anxiety. There is enough extant evidence to indicate that she never felt entirely secure in Henry's affections, while simultaneously revealing her to be a highly strung, anxious and occasionally fragile woman. At a banquet in January 1535 given in honour of the French alliance, Anne reportedly 'burst out laughing' upon seeing that her husband was engaged in conversation with a beautiful lady, bringing tears to her eyes. Upon news of Katherine's death in January 1536, Anne apparently withdrew to her apartments and wept because she feared that Katherine's fate would become hers. Although Chapuys absurdly stated late in 1535 that Anne 'now rules over, and governs the nation; the King dares not contradict her', Henry was always fully in control of his relationship with Anne, as demonstrated in his chilling reminder to her that he had the power to lower her. As with Katherine, Anne's queenship, in which she enjoyed noted successes as religious patron and as governor of her household, was undermined primarily by her failure to bear a healthy son. The queen had conceived soon after the birth of Elizabeth in the autumn of 1533, but probably gave birth to a stillborn child in the early summer of 1534. Anne was well aware that her position, and that of her daughter, remained uncertain. When the Admiral of France late in 1534 proposed a marriage alliance between Mary Tudor and the Dauphin, the queen was said to have reacted with 'anger', as well she might have, for it constituted a snub of her and her marriage. Having spent her childhood in France and having enjoyed good relations with the French ruling women, as a queen herself Anne might well have expected greater support from France. 

Although it is unlikely that she had ever plotted Katherine's destruction, Anne might have felt relief upon hearing of her former mistress' death in early 1536. She herself was pregnant at the time and perhaps anticipated a secure future as queen were she to present her increasingly irascible husband with the much-desired male heir. Having lived in fear during Henry's dangerous obsession with her, Anne was perhaps now apprehensive that his obsession for her was dead and feared the resulting consequences. When she miscarried a son at the end of January, the die was cast. Henry's growing infatuation with Anne's attendant Jane Seymour only worsened the perilous situation facing the queen.


Above: The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, where Anne Boleyn was buried in May 1536.

Only four months after her final miscarriage, Anne was executed at the Tower of London alongside her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, Henry Norris, William Brereton, Francis Weston and Mark Smeaton on charges of adultery and conspiracy to murder the king. The speed of the queen's downfall astonished her contemporaries and has perplexed historians ever since. A variety of complex explanations for her demise have been proffered, including the birth of a deformed foetus to Anne (thus convincing her husband that she was a witch); a court conspiracy masterminded by Anne's former ally Thomas Cromwell in alliance with those hostile to Anne and loyal to Mary Tudor; the influence of foreign policy; and more recently, that Anne was guilty as charged. Perhaps what all of these explanations lack is the human side of the story. 

Anne Boleyn's rise to queenship had occurred solely because the king of England had fallen dangerously, possessively, in love with her. His obsession for her had caused him to break with the Roman Catholic Church, annul his first marriage, and ruthlessly put to death those who opposed him, including his former friend Sir Thomas More and the aged bishop John Fisher, his own grandmother's chaplain and confessor. Anne had been blamed for all of this: by the English people at large, by foreign rulers in Europe, and by her former mistress Katherine and her daughter Mary. Only after Anne's brutal demise did they learn where responsibility for these momentous events truly lay. As mentioned, Anne's influence in the annulment proceedings was minor, and she exercised far less control, if any, in her relationship with Henry than is traditionally thought. She did not have the powerful protection of royal relatives abroad, as Katherine had. 

The best explanation for Anne's demise was offered by Amy Licence in her biography of Henry's wives and mistresses:

Henry was ruthless in his personal relationships... Once-beloved favourites were rejected suddenly, almost overnight, being sent away from court with little warning, never to be seen again. Once he had made up his mind, he never went back. He could no longer tolerate their existence and had a need to close a door upon them... The greater the love he had felt for them, the greater the suffering he needed to inflict upon them... It appears that Henry had a need to punish Anne, to exact a complete revenge on her that owed less to her reputed crimes than to his own monocracy. Thus, as he had dictated the path of her rise, he had to end it decisively. He had controlled and shaped her as a mistress and queen; she was his subject, his plaything, and he could not resist imposing the ultimate authority when he had tired of the game.

Anne Boleyn was not the tyrannical, monstrous witch of Catholic propaganda or the wily seductress of popular culture. An intelligent, sophisticated and principled woman, she had sought to distance herself from Henry's relentless advances but had eventually capitulated. Once she had assented to his demands, there was no way out. Responsibility for the ill-treatment of Katherine and Mary, the break with Rome, and the brutal persecution of those who refused to recognise the king's supremacy as Head of the English Church lies entirely with Henry, not Anne. Once his obsession with her had ended, she faced a brutal death because she had not provided him with a son and because she had disappointed him. Henry's great joy at her downfall and execution, publicly displayed to his courtiers and ambassadors, is indicative of the price Anne paid for having the misfortune to attract a dangerous ruler whose obsessions proved lethal.