The life of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury is likely familiar to those who enjoy studying the Tudors, but for those who haven’t heard of her, it is a story that perfectly exemplifies several realities of life outside the very center of the Royal Family. Margaret was born a niece of a king and ended up the daughter of a traitor, the wife of an unknown entity and the mother of a papist in the middle of the reformation. She managed to survive until the third act of Henry VIII’s reign, but by then she stood for something else entirely as one of the last Plantagenets to have made it that far in Tudor England.
There was one thing that Henry VIII and his siblings had in common: marrying whoever they wanted. Certainly we know how Henry went about this, but less known is the extent to which his sisters did. After James IV of Scotland died in 1513, Margaret went on to marry twice by her own choice. Today, however, we’re going to take a look at their younger sister, Princess Mary, who did her duty by the king of France and then went the Tudor way.
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.
Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard may have lost their heads to Henry VIII, but a part of me has always had the most sympathy for his daughter, Mary I. After all, she truly didn’t have a say in her association with the Tudors and it’s a particular kind of heartbreaking that her adversary was her father.
The question comes up now and again as to when England would have broken from Catholicism had Henry VIII not forced the issue in the 1530s and the answer usually landed on is that while it might have been delayed, the Reformation would still have swept the country in the 16th century. But it’s a tricky scenario to tackle, because it’s impossible to separate out the English brand of religious reform from Henry’s marital history, if for no other reason than it dictated both the succession and those with political power. Without Anne Boleyn it’s hard to accept Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer would have held the same sway, and without Anne there is no Elizabeth I and possibly no Edward VI.
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?
Between Henry VII ascending the throne in 1485 and his death in 1509, England evolved from a country that had been in or on the verge of civil war for decades to a country that was beginning to re-emerge as an actual power broker in Europe. It’s an interesting concept to consider in the wake of all the Brexit news as members of today’s Royal Family undertake diplomatic tours of European countries to underline Britain’s continued friendship.
By establishing the House of Tudor, Henry essentially put an end to the viability of continued Plantagenet infighting. As the last Lancastrian claimant (sort of, his lineage wasn’t much to boast of) he strategically married Elizabeth of York, fusing the two warring houses in one union. Thus, their children were meant to appease both sides, and their position was bolstered by a father who ruthlessly kept the peace, filled the coffers and eliminated dynastic threats.
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.
On this day, January 7, in 1536, Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, died at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire. Her body was buried in the nearby Peterborough Castle with all the honors accorded to a Dowager Princess of Wales, as the widow of long-dead Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, and, markedly, not as a queen consort.
In the last days of December 1535, Katherine wrote her will and one last letter to Henry VIII that read:
My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene.
News of her death reached Henry VIII and the royal court the next day. According to certain chroniclers, Henry and his second wife donned yellow, which was viewed by some as a disrespectful sign of celebration, and by others as a respectful nod to yellow as a traditional color of mourning. Regardless, on the day of Katherine’s funeral, Anne suffered a miscarriage and four months later she would be arrested, charged with treason, divorced and beheaded on Tower Hill.