Henry VIII . part VI

The King was constantly plagued by his leg that had become ulcerous. It has since been alledged that his health was aggravated by syphilis, but there's no real evidence of this.
Henry had been so amused by the repartee of a short, thin, quasi hunchback servant, named Will Somers, who was employed by Richard Fermour, the Staple of Calais, that the King engaged him as his fool. Somers carried a small monkey on his shoulder, and generally made fun of pomp and pageantry. Henry and his fool became curiously close. In fact Somers was the only person capable of cheering Henry up when he was in pain.

Whatever the situation, whether there be dramatic court intrigues, treasons and tragedies that would naturally displease the king, Will Somers survived as if he were Henry's pet monkey himself. In fact it's possible that he even became the king's confidante. A sort of amusingly distorted, looking-glass confessor.

At the time when Henry was seriously considering having his marriage to Anne annulled, he had already taken a great interest in one of Anne's maids of honour. No one imagined that beautiful Catherine Howard would rise any higher than the king's mistress.
Henry often tormented himself with ideas that God was punishing him for marrying unlawfully. His union with Anne had therefore been another unlawful (awful) marriage. Or perhaps he gave himself such ideas to justify his own tireless, obsessional pursuits and illusions.

Naturally Cromwell knew of Henry's interest in Catherine Howard, and was not enthusiastic about it because she was orthodox as well as the niece of his enemy, Norfolk. Politics and religion were then inseparably entwined together of course, certainly in Henry's marital alliances. The obligation of arranging the divorce beween the king and Anne of Cleves, put Cromwell in a difficult position. And ironically the king had just granted him the additional title of Earl of Essex.

Sir Richard Rich who had perjured himself in order to get Thomas More to the block, now did the same for Cromwell. Others made similar false allegations. The Treasurer Norfolk, and Stephen Gardiner (Bishop of of Winchester) had instigated a Catholic reaction in England, and had conspired a plot against Cromwell. The Act of the Six Articles was to be debated with the king, determining the persecutions of the Anabaptists (sacramentaries). Barnes, Gerrard and Jerome were consequently burnt as heretics at Smithfield. Cromwell tried to extenuate the punishments. But when it came out that he had not made any great attempt to bring about the royal divorce because he was aware that once free, the King would marry Catherine Howard, the niece of his enemy, he too was promptly arrested for treason and heresy. He was also accused of having been too close to the Lutherans. 

Henry had also felt betrayed by being forced into an unwanted marriage, and held Cromwell personally responsible.
Once he had done his duty in supplying the required, written statements for the annulment of the Cleves marriage, he was executed. Like More in the face of death, Cromwell also professed his true faith to be Catholic.
Henry was so shocked by all the allegations against his right hand man, that he did nothing to try to save Cromwell.

Catherine Howard had been educated for court and royal bed affairs, just as Anne Boleyn had been. But whereas Anne had always been arrogant and self assured, Catherine Howard was simply careless.

For reasons of State the marriage to Catherine Howard had to be relatively discreet. Her coronation was a promised eventuality. She was twenty years old, and was thought to be the most beautiful of all of Henry's wives. She was vivacious and sensual. Henry was completely taken by her.
Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador in London wrote to Anne de Montmorency in September, 1540 : 'The King is so amorous of Catherine Howard that he cannot treat her well enough and caresses her more than he did the others.'
For Henry she was 'a blushing rose without a thorn'.
But the thorns were to develop and be felt, much sooner than expected.

Henry no longer had any of his former, lusty charm. He was an enormous forty-nine year old with an ulcerous leg. His features were swollen, his jaws sagged, his eyes were puffy and half closed as if he were constantly in pain. He was too often preoccupied with concerns about his health. But he loved his new bride and he was still the King of England.

He gave her lavish gifts of jewellery each month, and proudly displayed her at State banquets. She was also bestowed with generous land grants including properties formerly belonging to Jane Seymour, and lands that had previously belonged to Thomas Cromwell and the Marquess of Exeter.

Catherine Howard and her ladies-in-waiting dressed after the French fashion resembling queens of cards. The effect was far more splendid than the dowdy appearance of the Dutch maids of honour of Catherine's predecessor.

It may well have been tacitly agreed that Catherine's coronation would be subject to her becoming pregnant, but after seven months of marriage this was still not forthcoming. Once again Henry was becoming very impatient, and his ulcerous leg was causing him worrying health problems and ever increasing pain.

Catherine's interest however, was focused on her own enjoyment.
A splendid pageantry tour of the Midlands and the North was organised in the hope of dispelling any doubts about the the king's health and monarchical power.
After this successful tour Henry returned in better spirits. This lasted until he was handed a paper confided by Cranmer regarding Catherine's past liaisons. The information was based on reports from John Lassels. It was his sister, chamberer to the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk who had informed him of Catherine's improper conduct with lutanist Henry Manox.

This determined further enquiries regarding Catherine's conduct. Francis Derehah admitted to intimacy with her at Lambeth, but they had been betrothed. The queen however, denied this. To try to avoid condemnation Dereham spoke of Thomas Culpeper who 'had succeeded him in the Queen's affections'. It was rumoured that Culpeper had even boasted that 'were the King dead I am sure I might marry her'. Even the queen admitted that she had met him by the back stairs and addressed him as her 'little sweet fool'.
Culpeper owned up to having had frequent secret meetings with the queen, but even the rack never persuaded him to admit to have ever committed adultery with her. According to him it was Lady Rochford who had provoked him into loving Catherine. Indeed, the confused evidence eventually highlighted her as the provoking agent.

The most damaging evidence was a letter sent to Culpeper from the queen herself. 'Yours as long as life endures'.
It was thought that Catherine, who could hardly have loved Henry, had hoped that Culpeper could produce the son to be passed off as Henry's. For she felt that her life was in danger as long as she was unable to produce a male child.

Henry was reluctant to believe all the allegations against his queen. But when the accumulation of evidence made it impossible for him to refuse to accept the thorny facts, his rose appeared to him to be not only faded, but utterly cankerous.
Mad with rage he called for his sword as if he wished to decapitate her with it himself.

All her jewellery was confiscated, and she was confined to Syon House where she was allowed four ladies-in-waiting, two chamberers and even her privy keys. She remained there for two months before being taken to the Tower for a much briefer stay. She was executed on the 13th February, 1542.

Norfolk, Catherine's uncle, had avoided the worst by quickly becoming a turncoat to join the accusers. He even managed to retain his treasury responsibilities, but Henry had no time or respect for him.

After all this, it was unthinkable that Henry VIII would even consider a sixth marriage. Yet only one year later he married a woman who had already out-lived two husbands, Sir Edward Burrough and Lord Latymer. Another Catherine. Thirty three year old Catherine Parr.

Catherine Parr found it hard to believe that Henry wanted her to be his new queen, but above all Henry wanted an intelligent companion capable of making a home, and of being a caring stepmother and nurse for his family. Catherine Parr succeeded in all these duties. The only discord was her friendship with the Cambridge Reformers. But she took real interest in the progress and education of Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, who were all duly brought to court.

Henry founded Trinity College, Cambridge, and he transformed Wolsey's Cardinal College, Oxford into Christ Church College. Catherine greatly encouraged him in all these projects.
As Henry grew weaker, Gardiner tried to push to reintroduce Catholic doctine, but Cranmer still had Henry's support for a Church based on broader foundations.

Henry made a will decreeing that no single minister would direct State affairs after his death, and that a balanced Council of Regents would have this responsibility. More early seeds of democracy.
Thus the colossal monument, he who laid the most important foundation stones of the modern nation of England, died early on the 28th January, 1547 in Whitehall.

His wife and children were not allowed to be with him. He had no desire for farewells. The only person at his side was Thomas Cranmer, who had come through it all with Henry VIII.

History often presents Henry VIII as a tyrant. This would be true regarding his refusal to establish an acceptable compromise to have enabled Sir Thomas More to take the oath of Succession. It would be true regarding his callous dismissal of Catherine of Aragon, who after 20 years of loyal marriage to Henry, deserved far more respect and consideration than the treatment she finally received. In fact Anne of Cleves was far more generously cosseted following her divorce from Henry, and her marriage to the king didn't even last seven months. Indeed, it's probable that this was the reason why Henry was so generous towards her.

As to the fate of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, history doesn't deny their guilt of treason according to the laws of 16th century England. Consequently, to treat Henry VIII as 'a tyrannous ogre' might be going a bit far, certainly in view of what he achieved for his nation.

Much has been omitted from this relatively brief six part series of the life and reign of Henry VIII. Aspects and details of reforms, of conflicts and activities, of the rise and fall of ministers and knights, of the New World explorations and discoveries, of European history and the struggle for a balance of power, have only been touched upon in order to give more relief to the essential events of Henry's momentous reign.

Obviously Henry's need to divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, as well as his marriage to Anne Boleyn, are the most determining factors of this crucial chapter in English history. Anne Boleyn's insatiable ambition,
ironically thwarted by the laws of nature. Henry's illusive obsession: the primordial requirement of a son and heir to the throne. Charles V succession as Holy Roman Emperor, blocking all hope of papal approbation for Henry to obtain his much needed divorce.
In a relatively short space of time, these entwined circumstances determined an unprecedented sequence of events. The first one being England's separation from Roman Catholicism, then Henry's establishing himself as Supreme Head of the Church of England. This, is turn, was to eventually lead to an earlier end to English monarchial absolutism.

No matter how one judges Henry VIII as a king, or even as a person, it is an incontestable fact that his decision inadvertently layed the foundation stones, or perhaps the very key-stone itself, of constitutional parliament and democracy in the United Kingdom. And this, long before it was established elsewhere in Europe, if not anywhere else in the world.

Indeed many European nations were formed from dukedoms and baronies, as a direct consequence of the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815) before they were then able to gradually establish their own democracies.

But however one wishes to reason or philosophise, history, also ruled by Divine power or by Nature, (which must include human-nature) often finally reveals it's own sense of irony.
Henry devoted the best years of his life going to utmost extremes in simply trying to create the opportunity to father a worthy son and heir. It was his essential priority for the nation. In part I, a reference was made to Henry VIII as having all the makings of becoming a compulsive despot. But he also became subject to his own despotism, his own obsessional conviction that it was his bound duty to father a son and heir to the throne of England.

Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn, never had such an objective. In fact she was also known as the 'Virgin Queen'.
Elizabeth I was one of the very best English monarchs in the tomes of English history. As the final monarch of the Tudor dynasty, her reign was the 'Golden Reign' in all respects. She not only established long lasting stability for Great Britain, and helped to forge greater national identity, but she as Queen 'married' to her nation,
destroyed a myth and created the invaluable precedent :  the power with which a woman can responsibly and positively reign and rule a nation. There is no doubt that she proved the validity of this beyond all shadow of doubt.

Certainly her father, Henry, would be capable of  bellowing with laughter in his Windsor grave at such irony. And just as certainly he would be capable of joyfully exclaiming his pride on having fathered such a daughter, even though one of Elizabeth's mottos was 'video et taceo'.


Portrait (by the Circle of William Scrots
1537-1554) of Prince Edward VI of England (12th October, 1537- 6th July, 1553).
He was crowned at the age of nine. The realm was governed by a Regency council as he never reached maturity. He died at the age of sixteen.

     Henry VIII . part V
     Henry VIII . part I 
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 by Hans Holbein the Younger (1498-1543). Portrait of Catherine Howard after Hans Holbein. Portrait of Catherine Parr by Hans Holbein the Younger.  With thanks also to Wikimedia Commons.                                   June, 2013

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