On April 12, 1533, Anne Boleyn appeared before Henry VIII’s court for the first time as queen. She was four months pregnant after a calculated gamble she and Henry took the previous autumn to secretly marry and consummate their relationship. For Henry this meant a frantic winter and early spring finalizing his divorce from Katherine of Aragon and solidifying the legality of his second marriage. For Anne, the quick conception was nothing short of a complete victory. Henry moved heaven and earth to make Anne his wife – her half of the deal was to deliver the son and heir he so desperately wanted.
Last week we addressed the question of when Henry VIII’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn began, but today we jump forward seven years to the final stages of Anne’s preparation for marriage – in other words, how exactly Henry made her queen. The evolution of their relationship – from Henry wanting her as a mistress, then a wife – held within it the destruction of the Tudor family. By 1532, Katherine of Aragon had been physically removed from court, out of sight, if not out of mind. Princess Mary, loyal to her mother and her birthright over her father’s “happiness,” found herself firmly out of favor for refusing to accept Anne.
Back in May we covered Anne Boleyn’s trial and execution, so it seems only right we cover happier times in her life, or at least the rise that made her so famous. Today we’re going to address the question of when she first caught Henry VIII’s eye and what exactly those early months and years looked like. With the benefit of hindsight we so quickly jump from Anne arriving at Henry’s court to the political battles of the divorce, but there was a lull in-between that helped dictate where the ugly mess ended up. The “when” is important, too, because it speaks to what everyone’s motivation was – Anne’s, Henry’s and the councilors at the center of court.
Today in 1536 Henry VIII married Jane Seymour. It was the third wedding ceremony in which he stood as bridegroom, and yet if you had asked him he would have told you she was his first true wife. His first two wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, had been false – Katherine, the widow of his brother who lied about her virginity and Anne, an adulterous traitor who might also have been a witch. Thus it was that at the age of 45 Henry was finally legally wed in a “true” union.
If Anne Boleyn is known for one thing it is being one Henry VIII’s beheaded wives. Indeed, the rhyme goes: Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. Her death has become so synonymous with her reputation that it’s difficult to comprehend how shocking it was when the whole tragedy unfolded in 1536.
Kings didn’t execute their queens, not even when infidelity was suspected. Certainly a queen had never been tried in a court of law, found guilty of treason and executed in English history. But for that matter, Anne was many “firsts” for the English – the first queen to oust her predecessor via divorce, the first queen whose rise was tied to religious reformation, the first queen whose sister was widely believed to have been the king’s mistress.
Today in 1536 Anne Boleyn, Queen of England and second wife of Henry VIII, was charged with adultery, incest and high treason. Four days later she was beheaded at the Tower of London. During her life, Anne was a creature of fascination – a woman that seemingly appeared out of nowhere and inspired the King of England to turn Western Europe upside down. In death, she has continued to nag historians by posing as many questions as answers – did she love Henry? Was she motivated by ambition? Was she as chaste as she claimed? What were her methods for keeping him interested? Why couldn’t she deliver a son? Was she guilty? Who was the cause of her downfall?
The simplest answer as to what Henry wanted from women may be the most obvious: a son. But a rational response to desiring and not receiving a legitimate male heir, even in the 16th century, wasn’t to form your own religion or behead your wife. Furthermore, Henry went through three more wives after his son, the future Edward VI, was born in 1537. Clearly “a son” wasn’t the only factor at play in Henry’s motivations for taking and discarding wives. So, what was going on?
We’re a bit overdue for some Tudor history, I think. Today marks the anniversary of the death of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox in 1578 at the ripe old age of 62. For those that know their Tudors well, Margaret is likely well-known, but for those that don’t, or perhaps have focused in on more key figures like Henry VIII’s wives or children, Margaret’s story may be more unfamiliar. It’s an interesting one, though, and just as dramatic, if not more so, than those of her more famous aunts and cousins.
While Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn loom the largest of Henry VIII’s wives, all six women have provided controversy and prompted debate centuries after their deaths. Henry’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, is no exception. Married to the King on July 28, 1540 and executed on February 13, 1542, her reign was brief but littered with misinformation and its legacy shaped by evolving views of female sexuality and abuse.
Katherine first joined court and met Henry in 1539 when she became a lady-in-waiting to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. At that point, Henry had been a widower for two years following the death of Jane Seymour, and his marriage was masterminded by his councilor, Thomas Cromwell, who was determined to find another queen consort who would complement the Protestant Church of England and the ongoing dissolution of the monasteries. Unfortunately for Cromwell, Anne failed to please Henry and he instead fell for the adolescent Katherine Howard, niece to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and cousin of his deceased second wife, Anne Boleyn.
Of all the characters that made up Henry VIII’s court, perhaps none are as famous as his second wife, Anne Boleyn, except the King himself. Equally as notorious was the family behind her – the Boleyns, yes, but also the immensely powerful Howards. At their head was Anne’s uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (her mother, Elizabeth, was his sister).
By the time Thomas ascended the dukedom in 1524, he was already a central figure in Tudor politics. Ten years later, when his niece was on the throne, he seemed unstoppable. Indeed, he was a force to be reckoned with, even up against the skills of Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Like a cat with nine lives, he managed to survive Anne’s downfall in 1536. He saw life again when another of his nieces, this one via his brother, Edmund, married Henry as his fifth wife – the ill-fated Katherine Howard. Once again, he made it through her divorce and execution in 1542.
It wouldn’t be until his eldest son and heir, Thomas, Earl of Surrey, began to eye the throne in preparation of Henry VIII’s death that father and son would be arrested in December 1546. Surrey would be executed on January 19, 1547, while Norfolk would be granted a reprieve by Henry VIII dying before his execution was carried out. His life spared, he spent Edward VI’s reign in the Tower of London, only to be released when Mary I ascended the throne in 1553 and he was duly restored to his offices and titles for the remainder of his life.