HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester’ by Nicola Tallis

The first biography of Lettice Knollys, one of the most prominent women of the Elizabethan era.

Cousin to Elizabeth I – and very likely also Henry VIII’s illegitimate granddaughter – Lettice Knollys had a life of dizzying highs and pitiful lows. Darling of the court, entangled in a love triangle with Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I, banished from court, plagued by scandals of affairs and murder, embroiled in treason, Lettice would go on to lose a husband and beloved son to the executioner’s axe. Living to the astonishing age of ninety-one, Lettice’s tale gives us a remarkable, personal lens on to the grand sweep of the Tudor Age, with those closest to her often at the heart of the events that defined it.

In the first ever biography of this extraordinary woman, Nicola Tallis’s dramatic narrative takes us through those events, including the religious turmoil, plots and intrigues of Mary, Queen of Scots, attempted coups, and bloody Irish conflicts, among others. Surviving well into the reign of Charles I, Lettice truly was the last of the great Elizabethans.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Lettice Knollys is such an interesting person, a life filled with enough drama and excitement that anyone would envy her. One of the few women of the English court not to be named Katherine, Anne, Elizabeth or Mary, Lettice Knollys was the daughter of Catherine Carey, the so-called love child of Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn.

While Catherine Carey wasn’t formally recognised as Henry’s love-child, the odds are high, making Carey the half-sister of Queen Elizabeth, and thus Lettice was Elizabeth’s niece, rather than cousin. The two women looked much alike, and as Lettice was only 10 years younger than her aunt, she was the younger gorgeous redhead. Dressed in clothes of the period, Queen Elizabeth and Lettice look much alike, same hair, face, smile. The author of this book leans closely to the fact that Henry VIII was Lettice’s grandfather, and had she been male, would have been an illegitimate heir to the throne. Lettice was a Tudor, something fast disappearing from the world.

Lettice married well at 17 to Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford and bore him four surviving children (out of five, pretty good). Lettice was young, happy and known as the most beautiful woman at the English court. Elizabeth, ever-vain, needed to be centre stage and could have been annoyed, but yet she and Lettice were close. Elizabeth had her own love – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom she could not marry. This is how two Tudor women became bitter rivals.

Lettice’s husband, now Earl of Essex, shipped out to Ireland at the queen’s behest in 1573, and Lettice started an affair with the queens’ favourite, Dudley. While nothing could be confirmed and most accounts are long-lost, the book tells of how rumours swirled of the affair and Lettice carrying and bearing children while her husband was away. Devereux came home after two and half years away, having heard all about his wife’s behavior. But Devereux left for Ireland again six months later, only to die soon after of dysentery while complaining about women being frail.

Lettice fought hard for an inheritance for herself and her children, and her affair with Dudley continued despite him being Elizabeth’s favourite. Dudley had wanted to marry Elizabeth, but was unable to for many reasons, and so had instead gone to the bed of the younger Tudor model. He married Lettice in secret in 1578, two years after she was widowed, he himself a widower for some 18 years at this point. Just two days later, Lettice sat with the queen at dinner, the secret safe, as it would be for  years, with Lettice and Dudley moving about regularly, usually separated. Lettice lost a  baby in 1580, gave birth to a son in 1581, and lost another in 1582. Their precious only son died in 1584, causing great grief to the pair.

But in 1583, all hell had broken loose. Elizabeth found out her favourite had married Lettice, and was living openly with her in his own home. A bond which had almost certainly begun in childhood was broken; Lettice was banished from Elizabeth’s presence, furious the man she wouldn’t marry had married someone else. Dudley was sent on several trips abroad, before he fell ill, possibly with malaria in September 1588 and he died with Lettice at his side.

Lettice remained out of favour with the queen, living a country life with a new husband, a young soldier named Sir Christopher Blount, former attendant to her late second husband. She struggled with the loss of her eldest son and suffered many financial troubles, and did not see her queen again until 1598, where the meeting remained icy a decade after Dudley’s death. The love triangle between Dudley and the two red-headed Tudor women never healed.

Thanks to the Essex revolt of 1601, Queen Elizabeth beheaded Lettice’s precious remaining son and her new husband , both for treason. She spent much time fighting over inheritances with a bastard son of Robert Dudley, and then lived with her daughters and their children, outliving them. She lived quietly under King James and King Charles, dying at her grandson Robert’s home in December 1634, aged 91, a symbol of  bygone age.

Lettice’s life, born under Henry VIII, a bastard grandchild to the great king, grew up under him, King Edward, Queen Mary, lived through Queen Elizabeth’s reign, then King James and King Charles, is a story of wonder, drama, intrigue, heartache and love. Why there aren’t many books on such an incredible woman is a mystery. Thank you so much to Nicola Tallis for the book I have been waiting for, a perfect read on a riveting subject.

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A Cromwell Adventure – Part 6: Anne Boleyn

a copy of an Anne Boleyn painting, thought to be from about 1534

Everyone knows Anne Boleyn; home wrecker, whore, poisoner, birther of the vicious redheaded queen, married to a vicious redheaded king. But as we all know, history is not kind to women, thus most of what is known is a lie, and most basic details about Anne’s life are not known by the wider public. Here is a neat round-up if you are new.

Anne was the daughter of Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk (and brother of the 3rd, obviously), and Thomas Boleyn, a courtier and diplomat (who married up in my opinion). Anne’s birthdate is unknown, and is either accepted as 1501 or 1507. It has been suggested Anne was born anywhere from 1499 to 1512, but as a daughter, the date was not considered worth recording. Based on research and writings, it is generally believed Anne’s sister Mary was born 1499, and her brother George was born about 1504, putting Anne around 1501 (as Eric Ives claims; he’s my personal Anne historian of choice). There is also evidence of further Boleyn sons, Thomas and Henry, but we will leave that for another post.

Anne was born to parents with a rich family history in the  Howards and their Norfolk dukedom, though the Boleyn family also boasted Earls, knights and one Lord Mayor. The Howard family could be traced right back to King Edward I, and Anne’s family were well-respected and noble by the time of her birth.

Anne Boleyn moved across to Europe in 1513, aged either 12 or 6 (depending on your preference) to study while her father worked for the ruler of the Netherlands, Margarete of Austria (daughter to the Holy Roman Emperor). Anne learned the traditional subjects of dancing, sewing, manners, music, singing, along with more useful skills such as math, history, grammar, reading and writing, etc. Anne’s mind would have quickly flourished with all this, along with more social subjects like chess, dice, falconry and hawking, horseriding and hunting. Anne sent a year in her studies and serving at the court until her father arranged for her to go to France, to serve King Henry’s sister Mary, who was due to marry the King of France.

Princess Mary’s marriage to the French king lasted three months before he died, but Anne stayed in France, serving the new Queen Claude for seven years. The life and education Anne would have received is unclear, but would have been the best a girl could have hoped for. The French court would have taught her French culture, along with their games, dances, literature music and poetry, and the ever-present flirting and courtly love. The French court would have also influenced Anne’s religious beliefs, where the traditional Catholic learnings were being questioned by many reformers and writers.

Anne was a pretty girl, with dark hair and black eyes, and olive-coloured skin, rather than the more pasty English and French girls. But her personality was what shined, setting her apart from others. Anne was also known as educated, witty, funny and sophisticated. She could gossip and flirt as well as any, then also hunt, gamble and play with the best of them. Anne’s lack of beauty (or what was considered a beauty standard of the era) was noted, yet her charm made up for it (that’s not my view, it’s the sexist opinion of the time). Much has been made of her appearance, such as her sixth finger (could have been nothing, could have been little more than a sixth nail, no one knows), to moles on her neck, crooked teeth, jaundice skin, but much of it is considered a 16th century way of blackening her reputation over time. King’s don’t leave their queens for monster-like women, do they?

Anne’s family had been busy while she lived it up in France. Her older sister Mary had also been in France, but was called home in 1519, and much was made her whoreish behaviour at the court, even with the new French king. Mary was married off to William Carey in 1520, but then became King Henry’s mistress, up until around 1525. One or both of her children may have been Henry’s. Again, that’s another post.

Anne’s father Thomas had been locked in a dispute for the title of Earl of Ormond in Ireland, as the eldest son of one of the women who had inherited the title from their father. With many family members battling for the prize, it was decided Anne had to leave France in 1522. She came home to England, with plans to marry into Ireland, to James Butler, a cousin also with a claim to the title. Anne had no desire for the plan, and Thomas Boleyn kept negotiations slow, so slow that James Butler married someone else in the family for the inheritance.

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Holbein style painting of (probably) Anne, date unknown

Anne went to the English court in 1522, bursting on the scene in a masque for King Henry, alongside her sister Mary, and the king’s sister (also a Mary). It wasn’t long before Englishmen were falling over themselves for Anne, though King Henry was still bedding her sister. Despite loving the attentions and affections, Anne fell in love with Henry Percy, future Duke of Northumberland. Only, his father, the current duke, hated the idea, and Anne’s and Henry private betrothal was cut off by Percy’s family and Percy’s boss Cardinal Wolsey, the most powerful man in the country and right hand of the king.

Anne continued in the service of Queen Katherine, and spent much time with her friend Thomas Wyatt, whose love for Anne grew with their friendship. Wyatt’s wife had been charged with adultery, but there was one bigger obstacle. Anne’s sister Mary had fallen pregnant again during her affair with the King, and his eye needed a new girl to bed, and it fell on Anne in late 1525/early 1526. Poor Wyatt had to stand back, and Anne spent time away from court at Hever Castle, to avoid Henry. But he was a persistent man, and a king, so eventually Anne came around to being a mistress, but a celibate one. Anne was smarter than her sister.

King Henry wanted out of his marriage to Katherine. Now he had met a woman worthy of being a new queen. Anne was young and had a womb that might give Henry and England a son and heir. By 1527, Henry was petitioning the Pope for annulment, to no avail. Everything was tried (see my great matter post if you aren’t aware).  But in 1528, Anne, along with much of England, caught the sweating sickness, a now-ancient illness which killed within days. Anne managed to survive the illness, a rare occasion, though her sister’s husband (and cuckold) did not. Henry sent his best doctor to care for Anne (though went nowhere near her himself, a real germophobe) and she became his obsession; Henry had to marry her at any cost.

Long story short, Henry could not gain an annulment and solve the great matter, not from the Pope, nor the legatine court set up in London to decide on his marriage’s validity. This is when Anne’s influence as a woman educated in reformation and Protestant teaching came in useful. She had Henry turn on the leader of England, Cardinal Wolsey, and along with Thomas Cromwell, Anne had moves made to extract the Catholic faith from laws around marriage. Queen Katherine was banished from court and Anne and Cromwell was at Henry’s side in all matters (but Anne still wouldn’t get in bed with Henry).
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imagined painting of Anne and Elizabeth by Gustaf Wappers 1838
In late 1532, Anne went with Henry  to the French court, and Anne, now Marquess of Pembroke in her own right (yet another post), was presented as future queen of England. It is suggested this is when Anne gave in to Henry’s sexual demands, and they married in secret in London in January 1533, or even more secretly in France months earlier (yet another post). Together with Cromwell’s law changes, and a reformer placed as Archbishop of Canterbury saw Henry and Anne allowed to be legally married and Anne crowned in June 1533.
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Anne gave birth in September 1533, to Princess Elizabeth, not the son she had promised the king. Laws were sent out, making sure only Elizabeth could inherit the throne, not Henry’s daughter Mary, Queen Katherine’s daughter. Heads rolled as influential men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher refused to agree to Henry’s rule over the church and baby Elizabeth’s inheritance. Anne was lavished as the new queen; she had 250 servants in her household and spent much time on the love and attention of her daughter. Historians state Anne lost a child in late 1534 and Henry was tiring of his new wife. His first wife was still alive, tucked away in poverty, and Anne, his pet project, wouldn’t give him a son as promised. Henry didn’t want to go back to Katherine, and made up with Anne, who got pregnant again by spring 1535.
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19th century imagined sketch of Henry and Anne by George Cruikshank
1536 had a bumpy start, but Queen Katherine died of cancer, causing joy for Henry and Anne. Finally Anne was out from Katherine’s shade and she could be recognised as a queen, not a whore. Everyone believed Katherine was poisoned by Anne, but there was no proof, but Princess Mary, Katherine’s daughter, was not forgiving to Anne. But Henry was tired of his second wife, and with her pregnant, as his eye found Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting (one of sixty!). In late January, King Henry’s famous accident occurred, when he fell during a joust and was unconscious for two hours. Anne was in a panic, and miscarried her son five days later.
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Henry had a blonde in his sights, and Anne’s son was dead. Anne was forced to see Henry lavish love on Jane Seymour as the Boleyns were put aside. Anne then fell out over confiscated monasteries with Thomas Cromwell, the man who had got her the crown, and without Cromwell or Henry, Anne was doomed. Henry and Cromwell came up with a plan; charge Anne as adultery with courtiers and incest with her brother, and she could no longer be queen.
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Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who had made the marriage of Anne and Henry could unmake it; Thomas Cromwell had George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Henry Norris (all whom worked for Henry) charged with adultery. With a false charge, false evidence and a corrupt jury, Anne and her fake accomplices were found guilty. The men were all promptly beheaded.

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imagined execution image from Matthäus Merian 1629
Anne’s day came on May 19, and executed by an expert French swordsman (again, the whole event is for another post). She was dumped in an unmarked grave at St Peter ad Vincula chapel until 1876, when workers identified her (and perfectly formed hands), and is now marked there. Anne’s daughter of course went on to be Elizabeth I and reigned England for 40 years, also never gaining a son.  Anne may have wielded power for a time, but never really stood a chance as a woman up against King Henry and Thomas Cromwell. All images of Anne were destroyed, any and all paintings are now recreations of her likeness.
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The way I write Anne in my first Cromwell book is of a quiet woman, intelligent and charming, but very much eclipsed by the situation around her. In the second book she shall become more of a power, more of the strong Anne many portray her as.

A Cromwell Adventure – Part 5: Queen Katherine

Katherine of Aragon was the Queen of England for 24 or 27 years, depending on how you look at history. Either way, Katherine is one of history’s most profound queens.

Portrait by Juan de Flandes thought to be of 11-year-old Katherine

Katherine of Aragon was born at the Archbishop’s Palace in Alcalá de Henares outside Madrid on 16 December 1485, the youngest child of the mighty Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, the two monarchs who brought modern Spain together. Unlike the stereotypical Spanish look, Katherine had red hair and blue eyes to go with pale skin, a possible throwback to her English ancestry from her mother. Named after Catherine of Lancaster, her great-grandmother, Katherine was third cousins with her father-in-law Henry VII of England, and fourth cousin to her mother-in-law, the extraordinary Elizabeth of York. By age three, Katherine was already betrothed to Henry and Elizabeth’s son, Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne.

Katherine received an excellent education, especially for a girl, in both canon and civil law, history, languages, religion, literature, theology and genealogy. Her strong Catholic faith was the focal point of her upbringing, and spoke Spanish, Latin, Greek and French. Even with all these academic studies, she also mastered all the ‘female’ subjects, like dancing, sewing, mannerisms, weaving, and lace-work.

Katherine and Arthur married by proxy in mid 1499, but she needed to wait to travel to England until Arthur was 15, the agreed age he should be with his bride. Katherine arrived in England in November 1501 to meet her husband and married officially on November 14 at Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. While Katherine’s dowry was 200,000 crowns, her parents paid only half upfront, an issue which would rear its head later on. While both Katherine and Arthur could speak Latin, they could not understand each other with their accents and pronunciations.

Prince Arthur was an intelligent and kind boy raised to be a leader but suffered constant ill-health. The marriage was never consummated (as sworn by Katherine and her ladies), and they moved to Ludlow Castle in Wales, 150 miles from London. Arthur was Prince of Wales, the title for the future King, but Arthur fell ill months later, possibly of the sweating sickness. Katherine too caught the illness, and awoke from fighting the disease to find Arthur had already died, aged only 15, on 2 April 1502. This was a devastating loss for the Spanish princess, Arthur’s parents and the country who had a good king-in-waiting to keep the country at peace.

Portrait of Katharine of Aragon by Michael Sittow, c1502

Sending Katherine home to Spain meant Henry VII had to return the 100,000 crowns in dowry to the Spanish monarchs. He wanted to keep the money, and potentially get the other half of the dowry payment. When Elizabeth of York died in 1503, Henry considered marrying Katherine for the money, but instead betrothed Katherine to Henry, Arthur’s younger brother and new heir to the throne. But with Katherine’s mother now deceased in Spain, her ‘value’ was less than before. As Henry was not old enough to marry, only 11 at the time, Katherine had to wait. Her father would not pay the rest of her dowry, Henry would not send her home, and Katherine resorted to living in poverty in London, selling all she had to feed herself and her attendants. Despite all this, she was the Spanish ambassador to England in 1507, and seen as a weak negotiator, being female. Only everyone had underestimated Katherine.

Henry VII died in 1509, and the new Henry VIII promptly married Katherine by choice, rather than by any pre-contract or agreement. The Pope consented to her marrying her brother-in-law due to non-consummation with Arthur. Katherine was now aged 23, considered old for a bride, and Henry was just about to turn 18. They had a private wedding but huge double coronation at the Tower of London, with days of celebrations for all and the people of England were thrilled with their young new king and perfect bride at his side.

Within months, Katherine was already pregnant, only to lose her daughter during a premature birth. One year later she gave birth to her son, Henry, who died of unknown causes (possibly stomach related) at only 52 days old. Just a few months into her third pregnancy in 1513, Katherine was alone in England as regent while Henry fought in France. She led the country and a led an army in full amour against Scotland, killing the Scottish king, while Henry failed in his French invasion. Sadly Katherine’s son died in premature labour that November.

By January 1515, Katherine gave birth yet again, another stillborn son. She got pregnant soon after, following her typical pattern of ease in getting pregnant, but hopes were low after four losses. But in February 1616, Katherine gave birth to Mary, strong and healthy, lifting Henry’s hopes for a healthy male heir. Katherine had an early miscarriage in 1517, and then in November 1818 she gave birth one more time, to another daughter who died just after birth. Katherine was at her end after extraordinary pressure on her body to produce the male heir.

Katherine portrait by Lucas Hornebolte

Katherine turned to her Catholic faith and her studies once more as she aged, and promoted education in women, which started to increase in popularity. The Princess Mary was titled Princess of Wales in a male heir’s place, but the issue of no son loomed. Henry had taken several mistresses during the marriage, and Bessie Blount, one of Katherine’s ladies, gave birth to a son in 1518, not considered for the throne by illegitimacy. Henry would not give his throne to a woman, thanks to a history of wars under female rule (basically men not able to get their crap together led by a woman).

Katherine’s nephew, Charles V, King of Spain, became the Holy Roman Emperor, making him in control of much of Europe. She tried to broker a peace deal with him, then instead encouraged Henry to sign the famous peace treaty with France at the Field of Gold and Gold in 1520. It lasted a short time, and England aligned with Charles, and Mary was considered as a wife for the Emperor.

Henry had a mistress, Mary Boleyn, but after two pregnancies (a daughter and son, maybe Henry’s, maybe not), in 1525, Henry changed his mind and wanted Mary’s sister, Anne Boleyn. A non-sexual relationship began sometime in 1526, and Katherine assumed it would be another flirtation, a woman Henry would bed and then marry off. But Anne was young enough to give birth, potentially to a male heir, and in 1527 Henry petitioned the Pope for an annulment, but was denied. As the law stated a woman could not marry her first husband’s brother, Katherine was in trouble despite gaining dispensation years ago. Thanks to a siege in Rome and the Pope a prisoner, the annulment was not granted. By 1529, Henry set up a legatine court in London, with English Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeggio from Rome, to settle the matter for good. Katherine was on trial as a wife and queen.

Wolsey was a champion of Henry and had ruled alongside Henry for twenty years. They stated the laws, civil and God’s law, that a man could not marry a brother’s wife, and dispensation could not change that. They also stated that Katherine lied, and that she had slept with Arthur almost thirty years earlier. Katherine had powerful allies – her nephew the Emperor pressured the Pope not to give an annulment, and in England the most celebrated powerful religious minds of the age – Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More supported her claim, along with Princess Mary Tudor, Henry’s sister.

The court case quickly crumbled and no result was given, the decision handed back to Pope Clement in Rome. Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s greatest friend, was arrested for colluding with the Pope to keep Katherine on the throne, and he died on the way to trial in late 1530. Katherine would to give up her throne, the only life she knew.

In 1531, Henry left Katherine at Windsor Castle, to live with Anne Boleyn by his side, though it was said Anne refused to sleep with him until an annulment was finalised. Katherine was moved to The More in Bedfordshire in late 1531, a small manor with few staff, to be forgotten about while Anne Boleyn took her place. Henry had Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s successor, change laws making the Pope unable to grant an annulment, and instead was able to gain an annulment through English clergy, the new Archbishop Cranmer, a Protestant reformer. Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn in Calais in November 1532 and again in England in January 1533, when she found herself pregnant. Katherine was titled Katherine, Dowager Princess of Wales, but she refused to believe the claims her marriage was over.

Katherine was moved between palaces several times and reduced to poverty once more. By 1535, she lived at Kimbolton Castle, in a single room, and forbidden to be with her daughter, despite Mary’s ill-health. Katherine and Mary could be reunited if they acknowledged Anne as queen and neither women would give in. Katherine continued to grow ill, and begged Charles the Emperor to protect the Princess Mary on her behalf. Katherine died on 7 January 1536, not seeing her daughter in four years. Poison was claimed, as her heart was black, though cancer is a more likely option. Henry and Anne celebrated, then claimed their yellow outfits were Spanish mourning colours, a fact never true in any time period.

The day of Katherine’s funeral at Peterborough Cathedral, seen by her last followers, Anne miscarried a son. Princess Mary was not allowed to attend her funeral, and the life of the greatest English queen was over, aged only 50. The people of England loved Katherine until her dying day and never accepted Queen Anne, who would be beheaded only a few months after Katherine’s death. Mary would continue her Catholic mother’s fight, and became Queen in 1553.

Up next… Anne Boleyn

 

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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