The English Reformation: 1534 – 1536

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We wrapped up “the King’s Great Matter” several days ago now, but I do think it’s worth one more post that closes out the three years that followed. These are, of course, the years during which Anne Boleyn was queen of England, but even more, they are the years in which the Reformation built the Church of England and the maneuverings that Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer orchestrated in the final years of the divorce proceedings took effect. The end result was that the last decade or so of Henry VIII’s reign look markedly different from the first two and his consorts, who now usually take center stage, were often just a domestic sideshow to an increasingly powerful and unpredictable king and government.

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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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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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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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Lady Jane Grey, the 9-Days Queen

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ICYMI, England once had a queen for only nine days in the summer of 1553. Slipped between Edward VI and Mary I, Jane’s brief reign speaks to the gender, religious and dynastic issues the Tudors faced from the last years of Henry VIII to the first years of Elizabeth I. Her actions were at the direction of others and her intentions likely quite benign; still a teenager when she died, it’s not difficult to grasp why she has captured the public’s imagination and sympathy since her execution on February 12, 1554.

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