Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 4 – Cromwell’s Complete Mercy Letter, 30 June 1540

Final page of Cromwell’s letter, held by Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury, at Hatfield House.

The letter written by Cromwell to King Henry on 30 June 1540 is well-known, though usually in the context of Cromwell’s beg for mercy. This letter served primarily to recall the finer points of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. Cromwell had been interrogated the day prior by Norfolk, Audley and Fitzwilliam, with Wriothesley writing out a series of questions and answers to be signed by Cromwell and sent to Henry directly (though anyone who has read Heather Darsie’s book on Anna of Cleves knows the details to be false). Also on 29 June, the House of Lords passed the final draft of Cromwell’s Act of Attainder, meaning he had been declared guilty of treason on the false evidence provided primarily by Norfolk, Gardiner, Fitzwilliam and Wriothesley. The initial draft had gone through parliament ten days earlier, passing unanimously, likewise the final draft on 29 June (not that anyone actually had any choice but to vote in favour). Cromwell would have received this information at his interrogation, and being the man who wrote the Treasons Act 1534, knew that the punishment was hanging, drawing and quartering (though even Henry commuted it beheading much of the time).

This long letter survives in two forms, as a heavily mutilated draft (British Museum Otho C. x f.247), and a finished copy (Hatfield House, Cecil Papers, 124-7) , both written on the same date. Below is a modern copy (using modern punctuation, as Cromwell loved extremely long sentences) from my book of Cromwell correspondence, which is available from 5 November. I have added footnotes for the names mentioned, in case you are new to the topic.

 

To the king, my most gracious Sovereign lord, his Royal Majesty.

Most merciful king and most gracious sovereign lord, may it please the same to be advertised that the last time it pleased your benign goodness, to send unto me the right honourable Lord Chancellor,[1] the Right Honourable Duke of Norfolk,[2] and the Lord Admiral[3] to examine, and also to declare to me, diverse things from your Majesty, amongst the which, one special thing they moved and thereupon charged me as I would answer, before God at the dreadful day of Judgement and also upon the extreme danger and damnation of my soul and conscience, to say what I knew in the marriage and concerning the marriage between your highness and the queen, to the which I answered as I knew, declaring to them the particulars as nigh as I then could call to remembrance, which when they had heard, they, in your Majesty’s name, and upon like charge as they had given me, before commanded me to write to your highness the truth as much as I knew in that matter, which now I do, and the very truth as God shall save me, to the uttermost of my knowledge.

First, after your Majesty heard of the lady Anne of Cleves’ arrival at Dover and that her journeys were appointed towards Greenwich, and that she should be at Rochester on New Year’s Eve at night, your highness declared to me that you would privily visit her at Rochester upon New Year’s Day, adding these words “to nourish love,” which accordingly your Grace did upon New Year’s Day as is abovesaid. And the next day being Friday, your Grace returned to Greenwich where I spoke with your Grace and demanded of your Majesty how you liked the lady Anne. Your highness answered, as I thought heavily and not pleasantly, “nothing so well as she was spoken of.” Saying further that if your highness had known as much before as you then knew, she should not have come within this realm, saying as by way of lamentation what remedy, unto the which I answered and said I knew none but was very sorry. Therefore, and so God knows, I thought it a hard beginning, the next day after the receipt of the said lady and her entry made into Greenwich and after your highness had brought her to her chamber, I then waited upon your highness in your privy chamber, and being there, your Grace called me to you, saying to me these words, or the like, “my lord, is it not as I told you, say what they will, she is nothing so fair as she has been reported, howbeit, she is well and seemly.” Whereunto I answered, saying, “by my faith, Sir, you say truth,” adding thereunto that yet I thought she had a queenly manner, and nevertheless was sorry that your Grace was no better content, and thereupon your Grace commanded me to call together your Council, which were these by name: the Archbishop of Canterbury,[4] the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk,[5] my lord Admiral, my lord of Durham[6] and myself, to common of those matters, and to know what commission the Agents of Cleves had brought as well, touching the performance of the covenants sent before from hence to Doctor Wootton[7] to have been concluded in Cleves, as also in the declaration how the matters stood for the covenants of marriage between the Duke of Lorraine’s son[8] and the said lady Anne. Whereupon, Olisleger[9] and Hoghestein[10] were called and the matters purposed, whereby it plainly appeared that they were much astounded and abashed and desired that they might make answer in the next morning, which was Sunday. Upon Sunday in the morning, your said Councillors and they met early, and there again it was proposed unto them, as well touching the omission for the performance of the treaty and articles sent to Master Wootton, and also touching the contracts and covenants of marriage between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the lady Anne, and what terms they stood in. To the which things so proposed, they answered as men much perplexed that as touching the commission they had none to treat concerning the articles sent to Mr. Wootton, and as to the contract and covenant of marriage they could say nothing but that a revocation was made, and that they were but spouseless, and finally after much reasoning they offered themselves to remain prisoners until such time as they should have sent unto them from Cleves, the first articles ratified under the Duke,[11] their Master’s, signature and seal, and also the copy of the revocation made between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the lady Anne. Upon the which answers, I was sent to your highness by my lords of your said Council to declare to your highness what answer they had made, and came to your highness by the privy way into your privy chamber and declared to the same all the circumstances, where your Grace was very much displeased, saying I am not well handled, insomuch that I might well perceive that your highness was fully determined not to have gone through with the marriage at that time, saying unto me these word or the like, in effect that, “if it were not that she is come so far into my realm, and the great preparations that my states and people have made for her, and for fear of making of a ruffle in the world, that is to mean to drive her brother into the hands of the Emperor and French king’s hands, being now together, I would never have nor marry her,” so that I might well perceive your Grace was neither content with the person nor yet content with the preceding of the Agents. And after dinner, the said Sunday, your Grace sent for all your said Councillors, and in repeating how your highness was handled as well as touching the said articles and also the said matter of the Duke of Lorraine’s son, it might, and I doubt not, did appear to them how loathe your highness was to have married at that time. And thereupon and upon the considerations aforesaid, your Grace thought that it should be well done that she should make a protestation before your said Councillors, and notaries to be present, that she was free from all contracts which was done accordingly. Thereupon, I repairing to your highness, declaring how that she had made her protestation, whereunto your Grace answered in effect the words, or much like, “there is none other remedy but that I must need against my will, put my neck in the yoke,” and so I departed, leaving your highness in a study or pensiveness. And yet your Grace determined the next morning to go through, and in the morning which was Monday, your Majesty, preparing yourself towards the ceremony, there was some question who should lead here to church and it was appointed that the Earl of Essex[12] desist, and an earl that came with her should lead her to church, and thereupon one came to your highness and said unto you that the Earl of Essex was not yet come, whereupon your Grace appointed me to be the one that should lead here. And so I went unto her chamber to the intent to have done your commandment, and shortly after I came into the chamber, the Earl of Essex had come, whereupon I repaired back again in to your Grace’s privy chamber and showed your highness how he had come, and thereupon your Majesty advanced towards the gallery out of your privy chamber, and your Grace, being in and about the middle of your chamber of presence, called me unto you, saying the words or the like in sentence, “my lord, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that I must do this day for no earthly thing.” And there, with one brought your Grace’s word that she was coming, and thereupon your Grace repaired into the gallery towards the closet and there paused her coming, being nothing content that she so long tarried as I judged then, and so consequently she came, and your Grace afterwards proceeded to the ceremony, and then being finished travelled the day, as appertained, and the night after the custom. And in the morning on Tuesday, I repairing to your Majesty in to your privy chamber, finding your Grace not so pleasant as I trusted to have done, I was so bold to ask your Grace how you liked the queen, whereunto your Grace soberly answered, saying that I was not all men, surely my lord as you know I liked her before not well but now I like her much worse. For to quote your highness; “I have felt her belly and her breasts and thereby as I can judge she should be not a maid, which struck me so to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters,” saying, “I have left her as good a maid as I found her,” which me thought then you spoke displeasantly, which I was very sorry to hear. Your highness also, after Candlemas, and before Shrovetide, once or twice said that you were in the same case with her as you were before and that your heart could never consent to meddle with her carnally. Notwithstanding, your highness alleged that you, for the most part, used to lie with her nightly or every second night, and yet your Majesty ever said that she was as good a maid for you as ever her mother bore her, for anything that you had ministered to her. Your highness showed me also in Lent last passed, at such time as your Grace had some communication with her of my lady Mary how that she began to wax stubborn and wilful, ever lamenting your fate and ever verifying that you had never any carnal knowledge with her, and also after Easter your Grace likewise at diverse times. In the Whitsun week. in your Grace’s privy chamber at Greenwich, exceedingly lamented your fate and that your greatest grief was that you should surely never have any more children for the comfort of this realm if you should so continue, assuring me that before God you thought she was never your lawfully wife, at which time your Grace knows what answer I made, which was that I would for my part do my uttermost to comfort and deliver your Grace of your affliction, and how sorry I was, both to see and hear your Grace. God knows your Grace diverse times since Whitsuntide declared the like to me, ever alleging one thing, and also saying that you had as much done to much the consent of your heart and mind as ever did man, and that you took God to witness, but ever you said the obstacle could never out of your mind, and gracious prince, after that you had first seen her at Rochester, I never thought in my heart that you were or would be contented with that marriage, and Sir, I know now in what case I stand in, which is only in the mercy of God and your Grace, if I have not to the uttermost of my remembrance said the truth and the whole truth in this matter, God never help me. I am sure as I think there is no man living in this your realm that knew more in this then I did, your highness only except, and I am sure my lord Admiral, calling to his remembrance, can show your highness and be my witness to what I said unto him after your Grace came from Rochester, and also after your Grace’s marriage, and also now of late since Whitsuntide, and I doubt not but many and diverse of my lords of your Council, both before your manage and since, have right well perceived that your Majesty has not been well pleased with your marriage, and as I shall answer to God I never thought your Grace content after you had once seen her at Rochester, and this is all that I know.

Most gracious and most merciful sovereign lord, beseeching almighty God, whoever in all your causes has ever counselled perceived, opened, maintained, relieved and defended your highness so he now will save to counsel you, preserve you, maintain you, remedy you, relieve and defend you as may be most to your honour, wealth prosperity, health and comfort of your heart’s desires. For the which,  and for the long life and prosperous reign of your most royal Majesty, I shall, during my life and while I am here, pray to almighty God that He of his most abundant goodness, will help aid and comfort you, and after your continuance of Nestor’s[13] years, that that most noble Imp, the prince’s grace, your most dear son, may succeed you to reign long, prosperously and felicitously to God’s pleasure, beseeching most humbly, your Grace to pardon this, my rude writing, and to consider that I am a most woeful prisoner, ready to take the death when it shall please God and your Majesty. Yet the frail flesh incites me continually to call to your Grace for mercy and pardon for my offences and in this, Christ save, preserve, and keep you. Written the Tower, this Wednesday the last of June, with the heavy heart and trembling hand of your highness’ most heavy and most miserable prisoner and poor slave.

Most gracious prince, I cry for mercye, mercye, mercye

THOMAS CRUMWELL

~~~

[1] Thomas Audley, good friend to Cromwell

[2] Thomas Howard, one of Cromwell’s two biggest enemies alongside Stephen Gardiner

[3] William Fitzwilliam, who took the Lord Privy Seal role, only to die two years later

[4] Thomas Cranmer, close friend to Cromwell, created the English bible together

[5] Charles Brandon, sometimes friend to Cromwell, neutral in most matters

[6] Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, staunch Catholic and enemy of Cromwell

[7] Nicholas Wootton, English ambassador to Cleves who arranged the marriage

[8] Francis I of Lorraine, Duke of Lorraine from 1544, died in 1545

[9] Henry Olisleger, Vice-Chancellor of Cleves, and ambassador to England

[10] Wernerus von Hoghestein, Chancellor and Hofmeister (court master) to the Duke of Cleves

[11] Wilhelm, Duke of Cleves, Anna’s elder brother

[12] Henry Bourchier, who died horse-riding on 13 March 1540, the king giving the Essex title to Cromwell on 18 April 1540

[13] Nestor from the Iliad, known for wisdom and generosity, which increased as he aged. The comparison was considered a compliment

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves” by Heather R. Darsie

Anna was the ‘last woman standing’ of Henry VIII’s wives ‒ and the only one buried in Westminster Abbey. How did she manage it?

Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ looks at Anna from a new perspective, as a woman from the Holy Roman Empire and not as a woman living almost by accident in England. Starting with what Anna’s life as a child and young woman was like, the author describes the climate of the Cleves court, and the achievements of Anna’s siblings. It looks at the political issues on the Continent that transformed Anna’s native land of Cleves ‒ notably the court of Anna’s brother-in-law, and its influence on Lutheranism ‒ and Anna’s blighted marriage. Finally, Heather Darsie explores ways in which Anna influenced her step-daughters Elizabeth and Mary, and the evidence of their good relationships with her.

Was the Duchess Anna in fact a political refugee, supported by Henry VIII? Was she a role model for Elizabeth I? Why was the marriage doomed from the outset? By returning to the primary sources and visiting archives and museums all over Europe (the author is fluent in German, and proficient in French and Spanish) a very different figure emerges to the ‘Flanders Mare’.

Cover and blurb via Amberley

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There is a piece of fiction out right now, which suggests that Henry VIII was right, Anna of Cleves was no virgin. I will not be reviewing that work, as I only publish five-star reviews, and leave the rest in privacy. Instead, I am here to show you THE book on Anna of Cleves, a piece of written beauty.

Anna of Cleves starts out with a look at Anna’s childhood, her family, its history, and life in Germany at the time. The book has researched German life and child-rearing for those in Anna’s rich position. No music, dancing and sewing days for Anna – girls were taught by women to learn finance, in order to run a home worth of a duchy. Yes, Anna could sew, with her fine embroidery and needlework on clothing, but could also read, write, understand money and German customs, values and politics. While all that is great, Anna learnt a German way of life, and the German language, one of her original problems in England.

The book tells us of Anna’s early life, rather than only focusing on her once she was purchased as a queen. The Cleves Court was an intriguing place, with a wholly different look at politics and customs of the time period. Without giving away spoilers, the stark difference between Germany and England shows just how much Anna had to go through upon her marriage and carefully negotiated life.

Germany, of course, was in the process of the Reformation, leaning Protestant, just how my personal beloved Thomas Cromwell wanted for England. Between the changes of Germany and the power still held by the Holy Roman Empire at the time, Anna marrying into England would have massive repercussions, and as someone who had to write the death of Thomas Cromwell, the book was an immense eye-opener on how Anna of Cleves’ marriage brought down England’s greatest minister of all time.  The situation was never as simple as Henry thinking Anna was ugly. No spoilers, but damn!!!

Anna of Cleves is an extraordinary woman. She managed to survive an annulment from Henry after only a few months (and didn’t have to sleep with him), and became the king’s ‘sister.’ Anna made friends with the grandest of women in England, Henry’s daughters Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth, and also the exciting Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. Anna managed all this in England, living a longer life than any other Henry wife, but never had to let go of who she was.  It has been a long time since I found a book with so much new information; we just needed to wait for Darsie to deliver such brilliance. History has relegated Anna to a role of being the ugly foreign wife Cromwell brought to England. A woman so repulsive Henry became impotent (though, come on, none of us ever believed that was her fault). A woman married for an alliance not wanted or needed, and disposed of for a pretty teenager. Anna was beautiful, educated, kind, clever and resourceful. Thank you for this wonderful book!

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII’ by Gareth Russell

Written with an exciting combination of narrative flair and historical authority, this interpretation of the tragic life of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, breaks new ground in our understanding of the very young woman who became queen at a time of unprecedented social and political tension and whose terrible errors in judgment quickly led her to the executioner’s block.

On the morning of July 28, 1540, as King Henry’s VIII’s former confidante Thomas Cromwell was being led to his execution, a teenager named Catherine Howard began her reign as queen of a country simmering with rebellion and terrifying uncertainty. Sixteen months later, the king’s fifth wife would follow her cousin Anne Boleyn to the scaffold, having been convicted of adultery and high treason.

The broad outlines of Catherine’s career might be familiar, but her story up until now has been incomplete. Unlike previous accounts of her life, which portray her as a naïve victim of an ambitious family, this compelling and authoritative biography will shed new light on Catherine Howard’s rise and downfall by reexamining her motives and showing her in her context, a milieu that goes beyond her family and the influential men of the court to include the aristocrats and, most critically, the servants who surrounded her and who, in the end, conspired against her. By illuminating Catherine’s entwined upstairs/downstairs worlds as well as societal tensions beyond the palace walls, the author offers a fascinating portrayal of court life in the sixteenth century and a fresh analysis of the forces beyond Catherine’s control that led to her execution—from diplomatic pressure and international politics to the long-festering resentments against the queen’s household at court.

Including a forgotten text of Catherine’s confession in her own words, color illustrations, family tree, map, and extensive notes, Young and Damned and Fair changes our understanding of one of history’s most famous women while telling the compelling and very human story of complex individuals attempting to survive in a dangerous age.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I have to admit that I am no fan of Catherine Howard. By the time that Henry married Catherine, he was fat, demented and most importantly (to me), had turned against my book-husband Thomas Cromwell. So I read little about wife number five. The whole Catherine Howard incident is just one big hot mess, and one of the main indicators of how far Henry had already fallen.

King Henry had spent twenty years on the throne as a golden king, praised by all in word and art, so to cement a legacy, but Henry’s third decade showed signs of decay. By the time that Henry had denied Anne of Cleves because of his erectile issues, it was little Catherine Howard who had accidentally wandered into view, as a teenage attendant to Anne. Anne of Cleves was an educated, travelled woman and Henry was more in need of a child who had no thoughts or opinions and could be manipulated by a man who would make a better grandfather than lover.

The English court expected women to be virgins, perfect and untouched in every way. Yet men roamed freely, unguarded in their desires, as if their meddling had no effect on virginity. Catherine Howard was a simple girl, raised away from family and without anyone really caring for her. Catherine makes the perfect victim to be targeted by an old weirdo.

Russell’s book tells the story about how court life would have been in Catherine’s time; the late 1530’s were an awful time all round, with Henry’s leg increasingly pressing upon his sanity, the country in revolt, and Anne of Cleves getting the blame for Henry’s lack of male…. well… just, ew.

Catherine was a victim of her own lifestyle, one she never chose. Without a decent education or people to confide in, she fell for charms of young men liked a pretty face. A sweet girl told whispers of love is easy prey for older men. By the time Catherine was sent to court to wait on the new Queen Anne, she had already become a victim of her own existence.

Henry, a fat, old man with a desire to feel special and young again, laid eyes on a girl, not a seductress or whore as claimed, but an innocent girl who was whisked away in the glamour of being courted by the most powerful man in the land. Henry had been married to Catherine’s cousin, Anne Boleyn, and yet Catherine had not been shown a caution around the king, and soon was caught up with a man who never loved her, rather loved the idea of her instead.

Catherine, covered in gowns and jewels, played the role of token on the king’s arm, only to fall in love – with someone else. A man who worked in Henry’s chamber, a man known to be a disgusting human being in his own right, was happy to let Catherine’s feelings run away with her, thinking she could have romance in her life while playing concubine to an ailing fat man.

Catherine’s life ended far too soon, scared, alone and never believed in her words and deeds. A young girl who wanted, needed, to be loved, was instead used and abused by everyone, a minor detail in a long story of depravity that was the end of Henry’s reign. It is nice to read about the life and facts of Catherine, instead of whore narratives.

 

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out. This journey traces their steps to the Alhambra in Spain, childhood home of Katherine of Aragon; to the very room at Acton Court where Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII publicly dined; through the cobbled grounds of Hampton Court Palace, which bore witness to both triumph and tragedy for Jane Seymour; into the streets of Düsseldorf in Germany, birthplace of Anne of Cleves; among the ruins and picturesque gardens of St Mary’s Abbey in York where Catherine Howard and Henry VIII rested at the pinnacle of the 1541 progress; and to Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire, where Katherine Parr lived as daughter-in-law of the irascible Sir Thomas Brough.

Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.

cover and blurb via amazon

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For everything Henry VIII did, all anyone remembers is the fact he married six times. To be fair, he isn’t all that different to many guys – gets to middle-age and freaks out and wants to date younger women, usually blondes. And like most of these scenarios, who the women are doesn’t matter so much, but to those of us who do know these women, they are far more fascinating than the man they married.

Whether or not you know your Annes from your Katherines from your Jane, this book is a different take on the six queens of England. Morris and Grueninger, rather than writing the history of these women, have instead mapped out their lives, detailing the places where they lived their extraordinary lives, a tour of their time as queens.

Katherine no.1 was England’s queen, but she began her life in Spain, and the authors have included this history in the detail of her life, such as the details of the Alcazar in Seville and in the incredible Alcazar in Cordoba, and naturally, the Alhambra. On the other side of her life, Katherine’s time pushed aside as a forgotten wife is even detailed, something I found invaluable.

Anne Boleyn’s life gets a vivid recreation at Hever Castle, before she headed to Flanders and France. Of course, her time in the Tower before execution is all laid out (in fact, there is a whole extra book!). Jane Seymour led a more simple life, but the now well-known Wolf Hall is there, along with Mercer’s Hall and Chester Place in London.

Next came Anne no.2, one of my personal favourites, and what a varied life Anne of Cleves lived. She grew up by the Rhine in Düsseldorf; she and her sister were painted by Holbein himself at Schloss Hambach. Anne travelled through Antwerp, staying at England House, and onto Bruges, Calais, before she passed through Deal and Dover Castles in Kent. Anne lived in many beautiful places before being given The King’s Manor, a 100-room palace in Dartford. Oh, to see what Anne of Cleves saw in her time!

Katherine no.2, little Katherine Howard, started her life at Norfolk House in London and Horsham, where many of her problems began. Katherine’s young eyes take readers to Oatlands Palace, Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, north into York and more before she ended her days in the Tower. Katherine no.3, the intelligent Katherine Parr, had been married and widowed twice before the king all-but forced her into marriage. She started life at Rye House in Hertfordshire, before moving between castles in Lincolnshire, Cumbia and North Yorkshire. As queen, Katherine lived in Woking Place in Surrey, including when she ruled as regent in Henry’s absence while fighting in France. The now-mythical Nonsuch Palace in Surrey also makes an entry.

I can’t tell you how many places are meticulously detailed in this book. The level of  information and attention is unquestionable in this beautiful book and there is absolutely no book which can give readers insight such as this one. I cannot thank the authors enough for this book, I originally got a copy at the library but went and ordered a copy for myself straight away.

A Cromwell Adventure- Part 3: King Henry VIII

The infamous painting of Henry by Hans Holbein the Younger

Everyone knows Henry; famous ginger, head chopper, tantrum thrower, binge eater, wife collector. But while writing Frailty of Human Affairs, I found that beyond those few things, people knew less than I expected. So, instead of writing lengthy discussions about his life, here is a brief round-up, plus the obvious and less-obvious facts on King Henry VIII.

NB: you dapper British people probably know everything

Facts you probably know about King Henry VIII
  • King Henry loved to party. A childhood of relaxation meant he took the throne without any preparation
  • Of Henry’s six famous queens, three of them were named Catherine. That’s weird
  • Henry had Anne Boleyn as a queen, Mary Boleyn as a mistress (separately, phew)
  • Henry took the throne aged only 17, and held on until age 55
  • Henry had England and Wales and Ireland together, but never secured Scotland
  • Henry was not a huge fat man his whole life. He was over six feet tall (huge then) and regarded as a handsome, athletic man. (Might be true; people couldn’t write he was ugly, could they). Henry was considered a catch, crown or not
  • Henry brought the Protestant faith to England, crushing Catholic rule. It would have happened without him, just slower, and maybe less bloody. Religion is a nightmare
  • Henry had a bastard son, named Henry. The poor boy died as a teenager, much the same way as Henry’s legitimate son, at much the same age. Coincidence?
  • Henry fell from his horse while jousting in 1536, bursting open his thigh, which never healed, making him in disgusting pain, and probably mad as hell all the time. The same accident likely caused massive brain injuries
  • Henry got upwards of 180kgs when he died. That’s upwards of 400 pounds for you Americans, upwards of 30 stone for you Brits. Eww
  • Had diabetes been a thing, Henry would probably have been diagnosed due to his weight issues. The obesity is, in theory, part of the brain injury caused by his famous 1536 jousting accident
  • Henry loved playing jokes on people, plus dancing and generally goofing around
  • Henry was great with languages; he spoke English and French, along with Latin, bits of Spanish (obviously) and even some ancient Greek

Facts you probably didn’t know about Henry VIII

  • Henry was a publisher author, writing on the Catholic faith (his love for it, while it suited him), and also wrote music, and the odd love poem
  • Henry ruled a spot of Belgium in 1513 when he invaded Tournai. Okay, France owned it then, but still. He gave it back in 1518
  • Henry loved tennis (as they played it then).
  • Henry said his fourth wife looked as ugly as a horse. He was no oil painting by that stage himself. Poor Thomas Cromwell got beheaded due to her ‘ugliness’ and Henry’s inability to get an erection
  • Henry is buried with wife number 3, because she bore a living son, not Katherine his first wife, who he knew since the age of only 10. Dick.
  • Henry basically created the English navy. They only had five boats when he took power. They had more like 50 ships by the time he died.
  • Henry and Anne Boleyn were not love at first sight. Anne had been floating around court for a while, trying to win a chosen duke for a husband by the time Henry stopped sleeping with her sister and noticed her
  • All of Henry’s wives were descendants of King Edward I to some degree. But the nobility was always an inbred lot
  • Henry beheaded 72,000 people, including two wives and one Thomas Cromwell!
  • Henry lost one million pounds (today’s figures) on gambling in only three years. But he never played with people who couldn’t afford to lose. Kind of nice, I guess…
  • Henry’s only descendants are in dispute. Mary Boleyn had two children, rumoured to be his (or at least the daughter, not so much the son). Queen Elizabeth II would be related to Henry if there was a way to prove the link. The facts make a very strong case (it’s hard to hide affairs when babies come out ginger). Current Prince George would be related to Henry on both sides of his family!
  • Henry had a fear of illness. He moved constantly to avoid plague and sweating sickness. After Prince Arthur died, it probably made Henry paranoid of the Tudors’ losing the crown. Every little thing needed to be checked out for Henry; he would take no risks (can’t blame him; germs were friggin’ everywhere!)
  • It’s claimed Henry had syphilis, but he never displayed symptoms, nor the side effects of syphilis treatment. He was no ladies man; he had his favourites
  • Henry was neat and tidy, not the food guzzling pig imagined. He liked to eat in private and was a fastidious hand washer at meal times
  • It’s theorised that Henry had Kell positive blood, a blood type that, if passed to a child, it would abort the fetus. That would explain so many dead children, especially for Queen Katherine
  • Henry’s beloved sister Mary married his best friend, Charles Brandon, secretly in France. Henry was livid – Charles was only there to collect Mary because her husband of three months, the King of France, had dropped dead
Henry looking smug in 1531, by Joos van Cleve

Henry, before he favoured beheading

Little Henry was born 28 June, 1491, at the Palace of Placentia (now demolished) in Greenwich. He was baby number three, the second son of his father Henry VII, the first Tudor king. His mother, Elizabeth, was the great white rose of York, the marriage ending the War of the Roses and civil war in England. He had a comfy childhood as he was not to be king, as his older brother Arthur was groomed for the role. Henry grew up with his mother, older sister Margaret and younger sister Mary. His younger brother Edmund and youngest sister Katherine did not survive infancy.

Childhood was a lavish affair, with many titles given to him and a top-notch education, the spoiled little boy in a household of women. At age ten, Henry was part of his brother Arthur’s wedding to the legendary Princess Katherine of Aragon. Then everything changed for little ginger Henry.

On 2 April, 1502, just twenty weeks into marriage, Prince Arthur died of sweating sickness at Ludlow Castle in Wales. Suddenly  Henry was next in line to be king. His parents Henry and Elizabeth had adored Arthur and trained him well, and now were terrified to lose their only son, and possibly peace in their country if Henry didn’t ascend the throne. But Henry took on no royal duties, and while he was elevated in status, he could never go anywhere.

Queen Consort Elizabeth could do only one thing to help her country; have another son, in case something happened to Henry. She fell pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, who died after birth. Sadly, Henry then lost his precious mother to childbirth fever. But the kingdom couldn’t wait; within months Henry was betrothed to his brother’s widow, and his sister Margaret was sold off to be Queen of Scotland. Henry and his sister Mary, three years younger than himself, became even closer in a world which hid them away in preparation for the future, he as King of England, her as Queen of France.

As Henry aged, he disliked the idea of marrying Katherine of Aragon, and called off the arrangement, leaving Katherine in poverty in London, as her Spanish king father would not take her back and her powerful mother died.

Henry VII died on 21 April 1509, which left 17-year-old Henry as the King. He buried his father and decided to marry the 23-year-old Spanish princess after all, his father’s dying wish (maybe; sounded good, right?). They had a small wedding but had a dual and incredible coronation at Westminster. Henry and Katherine were a happy couple, lucky considering arranged marriages.

Henry in 1509, artist unknown

Henry, the young, prudish, king ready to take power

It was time to start beheadings. Men Henry disliked, or were found guilty of crimes, were quickly dispatched; men disliked by Henry VII were pardoned or released and Henry VIII’s enemies were chopped. But as Henry found his way, his first daughter was  stillborn in early 1510. New Year’s Day 1511 brought a precious boy named Henry, who died a few weeks into his short but celebrated life. More stillborn sons in 1514 and 1515 brought strain to the happy couple, before Princess Mary was born healthy in early 1516. Katherine again bore a stillborn daughter in 1518, bringing an end to the royal offspring.

Henry had a few mistresses, as was custom when a woman was pregnant (which was a lot). He kept Anne Hastings early in his marriage, and then Elizabeth Blount from 1516. Blount gave birth to a bastard son named Henry in 1519, and he was made a duke, despite being illegitimate. A king’s manhood needed soothing after all, and a son did that greatly.

Henry met with the King of France and the Pope in 1520. Apparently a dragon went too. artist unknown

It wasn’t all sleeping around. Henry invaded France in 1513 while pregnant Katherine invaded Scotland and killed their King, who was married to Henry’s sister Margaret. War in France went badly, but Henry’s beloved sister Mary was made the French Queen for a few months and then peace reigned. With young kings in England, France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, Europe was unusually calm. England and France had the famous Field of Cloth and Gold in 1520, a lavish peace treaty signing, and Henry was named Defender of the Faith by the Pope in 1521, as Henry was a jovial king, but also a well-read and religious man.

But there was no legitimate son and heir. Henry was still young, and in 1525, was sleeping with Mary Boleyn, who was rumoured  to have birthed two ginger children (Catherine and Henry; pick new names, people!), but were officially considered her husband’s children. But by 1526, Henry was deeply in love (lust? womb envy?) with Mary’s sister, Anne.

Henry needed to find a way out of a marriage nearly twenty years old.

Then we move to the part of Henry’s life people know.

When the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Katherine, and Cardinal Wolsey, King’s closest friend and advisor, couldn’t help him (and then died on the way to his trial and execution!), Henry got Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s secretary, to change the laws of England and crush the Catholic Church’s power in England, creating the Church of England and Protestant reform. Henry married Anne in 1533 and Katherine, the perfect wife for over twenty years, was stuck out in the countryside in poverty.

Henry in around 1537 by Hans Holbein the Younger

But Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and had two miscarriages. Henry’s cut off Anne’s head on fake charges of adultery in 1536. He married Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, ten days later and she bore a son in 1537, only to die weeks later. Henry then married a German Protestant noble Anne of Cleves, to help fend off Catholic enemies domestically (the country was half of fire over the religious changes as monasteries were ruined) and abroad, only to find Anne ugly. Henry annulled Anne of Cleves, cut off Thomas Cromwell’s head as punishment for the idea, married Catherine Howard, an English teenager only one-third of his age, but cut her head off 18 months later for adultery. So Henry married another Catherine, Catherine Parr, then bankrupted the country losing in a war against France, and then died fat, old, cranky and possibly mentally ill. But he had his precious male heir (who died as a teenager, but that is another story).

Henry in 1542 by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Henry I write of in Thomas Cromwell’s life is from 1529 onwards, a man touching 40 and desperate to gain a son. It is all before his brain injury, his changes and his rampant tantrums, though they will make their presence felt! What kind of man was Henry before he became old and bitter? That I have been able to create for myself.

Henry’s six queens. (Anne of Cleves, wife 4, bottom left, is so not ugly!)

 Up next – Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

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