22 May 2011

We Three Queens

On New Year’s Day 1536, Henry VIII must have counted himself the most fortunate prince in Christendom, for all of his problems were about to be resolved. His troublesome first wife was on her deathbed. His second wife was pregnant with his heir. And, he was making great progress with his latest love affair. After so many years of heartache and trials, for a moment at least, it was good to be king.

News of Catherine of Aragon’s final illness had reached him shortly after Christmas. He was kind enough to allow some of her dear friends to visit her, but not their bastard daughter Mary. At nearly 20, the former Princess Mary was nearly as difficult for him as her mother, for they both refused to acknowledge that he had never truly been married to Catherine. Even the Catholic Church would not confirm that, as Catherine was his brother’s widow, it had been unlawful for Henry to wed her. The Bible was very clear on this point, Henry insisted, and he therefore had been forced to break away from the Pope’s domination and establish himself as head of the Church of England. [Read my post about Henry and Catherine's marriage.]

Only three years had passed since that schism had enabled the English Church to declare his marriage void and he had married his longsuffering sweetheart Anne Boleyn, Catherine’s former lady-in-waiting. So kind and loving during their six-year courtship, Anne was an insecure, demanding and jealous wife. So very different from the patient and supportive Catherine. Of course, Catherine was too stubborn. If only she had been obedient in the end, he could have been kinder to her. Why couldn’t she understand that their marriage was an abomination before God? That God had punished him by making them childless? Mary didn’t count naturally because she was a girl.

Now, with Catherine clearly nearing death, God was showing his grace to Henry by blessing his new, valid marriage with the long-awaited son. This was Anne’s fourth pregnancy after the birth of a daughter Elizabeth, a stillborn son and a miscarriage. But, Henry had faith that this would finally be the son he needed to secure his dynasty.

The only problem was that Anne was too bossy and too clinging. She was not born to be a queen, like Catherine had been, and she lacked the proper understanding of her role. She needed to stop telling Henry what to do and she needed to look away when he chose to fulfill his masculine needs. Instead, she caused scenes and intentionally provoked him. She was clearly ungrateful for all he had done to raise her up. Didn’t she realize that he could just as easily cast her down?

Ah, but his new little ducky was nothing like Anne. Jane Seymour was placid and calm. When she married, she would never cause her husband a moment of difficulty. Some may think that she was too pale and too plump, but after the fast-burning passion of his love with Anne, Jane was soothing and reassuring. She never questioned him, doubted him or told him what to do.

On January 7, Henry greeted the news of Catherine’s death with rejoicing. He and Anne dressed in yellow and held a court ball to celebrate the passing threat of war with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire which had lingered as long as she lived. As the aunt of the Emperor, Catherine had proven a strong wedge between Henry and the Empire. He was already approaching the Emperor with offers of rapprochement. As the bells rang out his rejoicing, Henry received Catherine’s final letter to him. Her final thoughts had been for him—for the safety of his soul, for the love of their daughter and for the love she still had for him. “Mine eyes desire you above all things,” she wrote. Henry’s heart ached. Twenty-seven years ago, their life had been an idyll. The handsome heroic young king and his beautiful princess bride. But, it had all been a lie, a love forbidden by God. And, even now, Catherine refused to understand, for she signed her final letter, in defiance, “Catherine the Queen.” Henry wept bitterly.

Across the palace, Anne also was having misgivings. She had thought herself in danger as long as Catherine lived. Only now was she realizing that Catherine was her only insurance. If Henry had discarded her while Catherine lived, his break with the Church and his annulment could have been invalidated—he would have been proven wrong. Now that Catherine was gone, many would consider him a widower. Those who questioned the validity of Anne’s marriage and the legitimacy of her daughter Elizabeth could easily persuade the temperamental king to put Anne away and make a new, uncontested marriage, perhaps with Jane Seymour. Thank God for the child in her womb. He was Anne’s only savior.

But Anne couldn’t help feeling trapped and neglected. Every time she saw her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, she wanted to scream. She couldn’t seem to stop herself from lashing out at everyone, including the King. Anne had made many enemies for herself at Court and she was not making any friends now. Why couldn’t she control her emotions?

Despite her anguish, Henry seemed to be having a grand time, cavorting with Jane, planning the funeral of his late “sister-in-law” Catherine, and going to jousts. His world seemed golden compared to Anne’s. How could he enjoy himself when she was so miserable? How could he abandon her to her fears and worries? She could just now begin to make out the slightest bump from the new baby. This child would change everything. He would be a Prince and the King would love her again. She would be the undoubted Queen and all of her enemies would disappear.

At a moment like this, not quite three weeks after Catherine’s death, the Duke of Norfolk burst in with an urgent message: the King had fallen in the jousts and been rendered unconscious. For two hours, he would not awaken. The Duke insisted that he tried to break the news calmly so as not to upset Anne and, on the surface, she seemed fine. But, on the inside, all of her fears were intensified. What would happen to her if Henry should die? Would Mary her enemy become Queen? How long after that would Anne and Elizabeth keep their heads?

As Henry slowly recovered, Anne’s emotional state did not improve. Her position seemed to be less and less stable. Thank God for the baby. On the day of Catherine’s funeral, 29 January, Henry donned black and attended a solemn mass. But, he still found time to cuddle Jane Seymour on his lap. Ah, could life be any sweeter?

Just then, Anne entered the chamber. Seeing Henry and Jane together, she bolted out of the room hysterically. It was more than she could bear. Overwrought and in agony, her body revolted against her. By evening, she had miscarried a son.

Henry came to her too soon. Grief-stricken and upset, his own nerves were too raw. Upon seeing him, Anne lashed out—it was all his fault! “I love you more than Catherine. It breaks my heart to see you with others!” The same old argument. Henry was enraged! Clearly this was not his fault. Anne had tricked him with witchcraft! God was punishing this unholy union! He stormed away, “God will give me no boys with you!”

Within months, Anne’s enemies convinced Henry that not only had she cuckolded him but that she had plotted his death—both were acts of treason. Just days after her execution, Henry married Jane and a year later, he finally got his Prince.


  1. Very well written! I watched "The Tudors" and I always wondered how accurate it was. Its good to know that the way Anne discovered Henry and Jane together and later miscarried was indeed true to history.

  2. I enjoyed The Tudors too!

    I tend to wonder whether, had Anne produced a boy, whether they still would have remained married? She seemed to be very needy and not very *understanding* of Henry's philandering. (Hmmm, who does that sound like?)

    So maybe even providing him with a son and heir might not have been enough to keep her head. Who knows?