The Flanders Mare: Anne of Cleves

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Poor Anne of Cleves, relegated to history as “the ugly one.” Her marriage to Henry VIII is now viewed as a short blip in-between the domestic dramas of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour and the scandal of Katherine Howard’s (presumed) adultery and execution. In fact, this fourth marriage of the King’s was important for what it signified – a foreign alliance arranged in the midst of frightening religious factionalism in the English government. The demise of their union – it would last roughly six months – also saw the downfall of the infamous Thomas Cromwell, risen up by the Boleyn family a decade before.

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His “Favorite” Wife: Jane Seymour

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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.

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The Death of Anne Boleyn

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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.

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The Guilt of Anne Boleyn

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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?

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What Henry VIII Wanted From Women

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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?

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When the King’s Sixth Wife Took Her Fourth Husband

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In addition to being the only wife to survive Henry VIII, Katherine Parr was also the only one to come anywhere near the King in number of spouses. All told, she would marry four times, her marriage to Henry being her third. Yesterday, we took a look at the relationship between Thomas Seymour, her fourth husband, and Elizabeth Tudor, her stepdaughter, but how – and when – she came to marry Thomas is well-worth examining.

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The Second Man in Elizabeth I’s Life

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For some figures in extended royal history, it’s easy to capture them in a single post. With others that’s less true simply because of the wealth of information out there. I’m never going to write a post that’s a straight up and down summary of the life of Henry VIII, for example, or really any monarch. Instead, aspects of their life will be written about over time…unless I suddenly find myself able to knock out 20,000 words in a sitting.

This is certainly true of Elizabeth I as well, which is why she hasn’t been written about too much here so far. But she will be, little by little, and today we’re going to take a beat to consider her relationship with Thomas Seymour.

I refer to him as the second man in Elizabeth’s life since the first would obviously be her father, Henry VIII. But perhaps a more accurate summation would be that Thomas was the second man in Elizabeth’s life that makes it seem less unusual that she never married, because let’s be honest, these really weren’t top notch examples of men were they?

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Half-Tudor: Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

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A possible portrait of Margaret (Image: the Douglas archives)

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.

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The Brief Life of Henry Tudor, Duke of Cornwall

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1511 joust celebrating Prince Henry’s birth

All told, Katherine of Aragon had a pretty tragic life. She is most renowned for her last years, when she was battling it out with her husband, Henry VIII, on the European stage over the state of their marriage and the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. Or perhaps for her widowhood when she was stranded in England in a strange limbo state, Prince Arthur having died, her virginity uncertain and her betrothal to Prince Henry up in the air. But for a few years in the beginning of her second marriage, I like to think Katherine was happy. Specifically, I like to think about the 52-day period in 1511 when she had successfully delivered her husband a son and the idea that there would be five subsequent queen consorts after her would have seemed absurd.

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The Case of Katherine Howard

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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.

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