Three years ago, I began a series of posts about the Tudor dynasty of England – one of my favorite subjects of historical study. However, due to tragic circumstances (namely, high school), I never actually got around to writing more than one post.
Now that I have so much free time, I have decided to continue the series. Without further ado, I present to you…
A TUDOR STORY – PART TWO
It is a question many people, both historians and non-historians, have asked throughout the years: which of his six wives did Henry love the most?
The answer, frankly, is probably something along the lines of “None of them, because he was a hedonistic, egotistical hippopotamus* who didn’t actually care much about anything” – but that isn’t particularly pleasing, isn’t it?
So instead, a lot of people argue that it’s either Wife #1, Catherine of Aragon… or Wife #2, Anne Boleyn. Since my last post was rather terse, I’m going to take some time to provide a backstory for each woman.
CATHERINE OF ARAGON
The Infanta Catalina of Aragon was, from the moment of her birth, destined for greatness. Her mother, Isabella of Castile, had eloped with Ferdinand of Aragon, thus joining their two kingdoms. They then proceeded to:
a) Drive the Moors, or Muslims, out of Spain
b) Have a whole bunch of kids
One of those children was Catalina of Aragon, born in 1485 (incidentally, the same year in which the House of Lancaster, led by Henry Tudor, vanquished the House of York, led by the then-monarch Richard III). As a young woman, she was betrothed to Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales – son of Henry VII – and sent across the sea to meet her new husband. In the months after their marriage, Catalina – renamed the anglicized “Catherine” – reportedly sat in on Arthur’s meetings, and helped her husband with his affairs of state (Henry VII, who was frankly quite misogynistic, was not very pleased about this).
All in all, it seemed like a fairly decent royal marriage. The Princess was a foreigner, yes; but she was quite pretty, and smart to boot. Everything was going swimmingly-
Until Arthur, who had never been the healthiest of teenagers, kicked the bucket, and Catherine was suddenly bereft of everything. Literally bereft – King Henry wouldn’t pay her an allowance, and she couldn’t work (for obvious reasons), so all she really had left was the dowry her father had given her for Henry. Resultantly, she wore old, tattered clothes while eating stale, meager food… off of valuable solid-gold plates – which she couldn’t sell unless she wanted a furious former father-in-law breathing down her neck.
HOWEVER, her life was about to undergo another drastic change. King Henry VII was getting on in years, and his health was consequently taking a bit of a nosedive – something which his current heir, Arthur’s younger brother Henry, knew all too well. Prince Henry also knew full well about his brother’s widow’s unpleasant situation – and decided that, despite her being seven years older than him, he was going to wed her, thus pulling her out of her misery and restoring her to her intended position.
And when Henry VII hopped the twig** in the year 1509, that is exactly what the new King Henry VIII did. The new English royal couple was a breathtaking sight: he was a tall, fiery-haired seventeen-year-old with a “face like an angel”, and she was a petite, curvaceous twenty-three-year-old with a cloud of strawberry blonde hair and big blue eyes. Where Henry VII had been dour and miserly, Henry VIII was (seemingly) generous and fun-loving. He participated in jousts, held frequent banquets, and was hopelessly in love with his pretty Spanish wife.
A few months after the marriage, Catherine fell pregnant***. However, this pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. However, she did manage to carry her next pregnancy to term, resulting in the birth of a son – Prince Henry of Wales. Henry VIII was overjoyed, for he had been gifted with his greatest dream, a son to carry on the Tudor name.
Less than two months later, that gift was rudely snatched away from him when Prince Henry, a sickly baby, cashed in his chips. Thus began a long chain of stillbirths and miscarriages. Only one healthy infant – the Princess Mary – was born, in 1516.
Faced with this barrage of failed pregnancies, King Henry’s love for his wife began to crumble like a piece of termite-infested wood****. Where he had once ignored the six-year age difference between himself and his wife, he now looked upon it as the root of all his problems: his wife was simply too old to give birth to the sons he desired.
And so he began to ponder the idea of an annulment, which would erase his marriage to Catherine and allow him to seek a younger, more fertile bride. Initially, his closest advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, approved of this plan, and set about researching good marital prospects for the still-young King.
But in 1526, the Cardinal’s dream – of King Henry marrying a nice Catholic princess – turned up its toes – because of a twenty-five-year-old lady-in-waiting named Anne Boleyn.
Thus concludes Part II of A Tudor Story! (I hope that was a suitable enough cliffhanger…)
*No offense intended; I’m sure hippopotamuses are lovely creatures. Highly aggressive and capable of lethal violence, yes – but lovely nonetheless.
**Challenge: How many folksy euphemisms for “died” are present in this post?
***This site is an awesome resource on all things Tudor, and it’s great for brushing up my memory on Catherine’s list of pregnancies: http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-pregnancies-of-anne-boleyn-and-catherine-of-aragon/
****This would not be a History Hacker post without at least one ludicrous simile.