Among the many who disapproved of Anne Boleyn were the malicious who would remark on the rudimentary sixth finger of her left hand as a sign of a witch. But she was adroit in concealing this beneath her sleeve folds and with her normal fingers.
An Italian's description of her at the age of twenty six went as follows : 'Mistress Anne is not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised and, in fact, has nothing but the English King's appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful'.
Anne was extremely demanding, and often astonished the king by her brusk and arrogant manner of addressing him. Certainly Catherine could never have been accused of such haughty insolence.
To compensate for the secret marriage, Anne was granted a lavish coronation in keeping with her former wishes. The voyage in a royal barge to the Tower for the coronation ceremony which took place in May, 1533, the pageantry, water carnival, fireworks and procession through the streets of London, would for Anne, have represented her personal triumph. This was what she had been so patiently waiting for.
In September that same year, Anne Bolyne gave birth to Princess Elizabeth in Greenwich.
Having broken with Rome in order to remarry and thus realise his primordial objective to father a son and heir to the throne, Henry could not hide his disappointment. He was as cold with Anne as he was with his new daughter.
Sir Thomas More, with his international reputation, was the best choice to replace Wolsey as Lord Chancellor.
In spite of his disillusionment over the birth of Elizabeth, Henry remained adamant regarding the social and religious support of his decision ratified by Parliament. An oath to the Succession was drawn up to this effect. Most of the king's courtiers and eminent subjects took the oath late in March, 1534.
Although the integrity of humanist Thomas More could never permit him to repudiate papal authority, he hoped and suggested that the oath could be reworded in such a way that would allow him to commit himself to it. Henry, in his frustration, badly needed the support of those he respected most, but neither Sir Thomas More nor the Bishop Fisher of Rochester, whose allegiance would have, in Henry's eyes, fully justified and sanctified his decision, could agree under the stipulated conditions.
That the Succession had been ratified by Parliament made no difference for Henry. It was the principle, a moral question. Perhaps deep down he had doubts about his own decision, and needed, above all, the benediction of the much admired Thomas More, to enable him to allay them.
Important personalities such as John Houghton, Prior of the London Charterhouse, and the worthy scholar, Richard Reynolds of Syon Monastery, were executed on the 4th May, 1535 for treason over the Act of Succession. Bishop John Fisher, who had always supported Catherine, was also sentenced to death for treason. In his view 'Henry, King of England, was not and could never be Supreme Head of the Church of England.' For his execution he insisted on wearing his best clothes. For him, as he put it to his unenthusiastic servant, 'Do'st thou not mark that this is our wedding day, and that it behoveth us therefore to use more cleanliness for the solemnity of the marriage?'
In addition to Catherine, Anne Boleyn's main enemies had always included Sir Thomas More. More's own wife wondered why, for the sake of 'a piece of paper', he let himself be shut up in the Tower. Even his preferred daughter (Meg Roper) had taken the oath.
During Thomas More's trial, a certain Richard Rich misconstrued his words in order to lamely come up with an injurious remark against the king. More's reaction was to suggest that the court should 'pay no attention to a man who was a great doer and of no commendable fame'.
More received a message from the king. He was required to limit his words to those of a farewell. Ever loyal to the end, even to a totally unjust death sentence, Thomas More obeyed.
Despite all his faults, Henry knew that England had lost a great man of fine integrity, and that the world would take his solid defence of principle to be the most important repudiation of the King's religious, if not royal authority.
During the same month of January, 1536, when Catherine died, Henry suffered from a serious riding accident. It was first thought that his life was in danger. When Anne was informed of the accident by Norfolk, her uncle, the shock- according to her- provoked the miscarriage of a baby boy.
As Henry was already overwrought by the demands of his wife, and his accident which caused him a leg injury and lameness that he had to contend with for the rest of his life, Anne's miscarriage and her general unpopularity, made him believe he had been 'seduced by witchcraft'.
Even as early as the year 1534, Henry had been confiding with Cromwell and Cranmer over the matter, seeking advice on how best he could get rid of Anne, and avoid the return of Catherine.
Incredibly the Boleyn family, aware of Henry's marital deception, and concerned about losing the considerable fortune that Anne had brought them, introduced to court an attractive cousin of Anne's, Madge Shelton. Henry lost no time in taking her for his mistress. Anne was furious and even more vindictive. She was cruel towards Princess Mary whom she treated as a 'cursed bastard', even suggesting that she be poisoned.
Neglected by Henry, she began to look elsewhere, no doubt also with the aim to seek vengeance. There was a considerable courtly flutter of male interest, and Anne still hoped for the son who would change everything. She began another pregnancy in 1536.
At about the same time Henry visited Wolf Hall in Wiltshire where he met the fair, 25 year old daughter of the house, Jane Seymour. Her father, Wiltshire Knight, Sir John Seymour, had served under the king in France, in 1513. He was also present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Her mother was a Wentworth descendant of Edward III.
All the king's troubles, and even Madge, were there and then forgotten, for Henry VIII had fallen in love once more.
Henry VIII . part V
Henry VIII . part V
Henry VIII . part III
Text © Mirino. Sources include- 'Henry VIII and his Court' by Neville Williams, 'The lives of the Kings & Queens of England' edited by Antonia Fraser. With many thanks. Top portrait of Henry VIII and preliminary portrait drawing of Thomas More by Holbein the Younger. With thanks also to Wikimedia Commons. May, 2013