18 January 2021

Henry VIII's Most Beloved Wife

Henry VIII had six wives, but did he love any of them? After I recently re-shared my 20009 post, The Most Neglected Princess, in which I assert my belief that he loved Catherine of Aragon, a Twitter dialogue was sparked. While some agreed with me, others offered up different views. So, I decided to put the question to a Twitter poll, asking people to name Henry's most beloved wife. Since Twitter polls only allow up to four options, I opted not to include his fourth wife Anne of Cleves, whom he rejected upon first sight, as well as his last wife Catherine Parr. Although I told respondents they could "write in" either of these two, no one did.

Here are the results of this very unscientific survey:

Coming in fourth place is Henry's fifth wife the teenaged Catherine Howard, whose nubile youth attracted the lecherous older man. Alas, the girl's flirtatious and flighty nature proved her downfall. She (unlike her first cousin Anne Boleyn) likely was guilty of the infidelity that cost her her head. She garnered only 2.5% of the votes. 

In third place is said older cousin Anne Boleyn, the woman for whom Henry changed the nation's relationship with God. His infatuation for the sophisticated young woman, who had been trained in the continental courts of France and Burgundy, burned for years as she denied him access to her person while he remained married to his first wife. Unable to secure an annulment from the Pope in Rome after trying everything he and his advisors could conceive. He broke with Rome, declared himself the head of Church of England, and (not surprisingly) agreed when his new Church decided that his first marriage was invalid. Despite his long wait and indefatigable battle to marry her, Henry quickly grew tired of Anne's screeching demands and inability to quickly manufacture a son for him and believed the very likely trumped-up charges of infidelity that were brought to him. Anne was the first of his queen's to be executed. This complex affair led 22.5% of respondents believe Henry loved Anne more than his other wives.

To Royal Bearing (@RoyalBearing), Henry's relationships seemed "More like lust with Anne B and Catherine H."

Second place, with 27.5% of the votes, went to my personal favorite Catherine (read my post The Love Story of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon). Widowed by his older brother when Henry was just a child, Catherine lived in a kind of limbo waiting for their father's to decide her marital fate. She was engaged to Henry and then unengaged. When he inherited the throne as a teenager, he imagined himself as her knight errant and, having rescued her from genteel neglect, married her in a fit of romance. The daughter of Isabella of Castile, Catherine made a fit political partner for him. However, unlike her mother, she was unable to produce more than one living child. Over the years, Henry started to grow concerned about the fitness of that child, the Princess Mary, to succeed him because of her gender. After decades of marriage with a generally pleasant and obedient wife, he expected Catherine to agree that God was punishing him for marrying his brother's widow. She shocked the devil out of him when she didn't and went even further, using all of her political and familial connections to oppose him. By the time, he finally declared himself free of her, his once abundant love had become a seething rage.

RoyalistSupporter (@ProRoyalFamily) called Henry's relationship with Catherine of Aragon real love that wasn't colored by the kind of ulterior motives of his other marriages. "Also I felt he still cared about her after the divorce."

Royal Bearing (@RoyalBearing) wrote, "Catherine of A definitely the closest he seemed to come [to love], especially for reciprocated love."

The Royal Watcher (@saadsalman719) agrees. "I think C of A was the most compatible wife for him and he truly loved her. Had he accepted that she wasn't going to have sons and trained Mary to be a capable ruler then history would have certainly been different today!" (Indeed, imagine new Elizabethan Age.)

Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
by Remigius van Leemput (after Hans Holbein the Younger)
from the Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons

Earning nearly half of the votes, Henry's third wife, the docile Jane Seymour earned the crown as his most beloved. Calmer and much more complaisant than her two predecessors, Jane did something both of them had failed to do: she gave Henry a son. Then, she promptly succumbed to childbed fever leaving Henry to grieve her loss just 18 months after he had married her. He himself seemed devoted to her sanctified memory, even painting her into a family portraits for years after she had died.

As Cheryl Shifflet (@cheryl_shifflet) commented, "Jane Seymour for sure. She gave Henry his much desired and needed son. I also read her mourned her quite a bit." 

Royal Bearing (@RoyalBearing) sees it differently: "Jane S might have been love but giving him his heir & her early death turned her into a saint so difficult to tell his feelings beneath for her."

So, what do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

10 January 2021

The Love Story of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

By Joannes Corvus via Wikimedia Commons

Few people today realize that England's King Henry VIII actually enjoyed a long marriage with his first wife. The couple had been engaged after her first husband, Henry's older brother Prince Arthur died. At the time of their engagement, Catherine was 17 and Henry was a precocious 11. Over the next several years, Catherine was a pawn in the political wrangling between her father, the King of Aragon, and Henry's father. For a brief moment, it was even possible that she might be married off to her father-in-law while other European princesses were sought for Henry. The princess was often low on funds and left alone in the country side. She struggled under the strain of her uncertain situation.

(For more about the "courtship" of Henry and Catherine, see my earlier post, The Most Neglected Princess.)

Nevertheless, Henry married Catherine within two months of ascending the throne at the age of 17. Deeply in love with each other (okay, he was probably in love with the idea of being her hero), Catherine and Henry had a happy marriage for the first several years, marred only by the death of a premature daughter. Their next child was a little boy named Henry. The king threw elaborate parties and held tournaments in honor of the newborn but the baby only lived a few weeks. In the meantime, Catherine was also devastated to discover that Henry had a mistress. He is believed to have been very discreet about such matters and it was certainly normal for men to engage in such things, but Catherine was heartbroken. They had a huge fight and Catherine did not emerge the winner. It damaged their relationship, but they still continued to have a stable and happy married life.

In fact, Henry had so much respect for Catherine that he left her as Regent while he traveled to fight in France. While he was gone, the Scots invaded England. At Flodden, the English thoroughly destroyed the Scots and the Scottish king (husband of Henry's sister Margaret) was killed. Catherine ordered the Scottish king's head to be sent to her and she forwarded it on to Henry in France. Henry was proud of Catherine's actions in his absence but may have been a bit jealous because he had less military success. Shortly before his return, she delivered another premature child who died shortly after birth.

Catherine finally had a healthy child, the future Queen Mary, in 1516. Henry was a doting daddy who, for a short time, began to view Mary as his heir, but later he became increasingly concerned about having a son. As Catherine neared menopause, Henry was still young and virile. As a deeply religious and philosophical person who was also receiving outside encouragement, he started to wonder whether his marriage to Catherine, his brother's widow, was invalid despite the dispensation they had received from the Pope, and that's why he had no sons.

For her part, Catherine had always been a highly obedient and untroublesome wife. When Henry informed her that he believed their marriage was against God's wishes, Henry fully expected that she would comply. He underestimated both her religious piety and her deep love for her daughter (Henry's plan would--and did--make Mary a bastard).

The Pope, who was being held captive by Catherine's nephew, supported her. And that is why Henry VIII created the Church of England and made himself the head of it. Contrary to popular belief, he remained an ardent Catholic. Several of his future wives, particularly the last one, had to hide their Protestant beliefs from him in order to avoid the executioner.

Henry divorced Catherine and declared their marriage null, he made Mary a bastard and married Anne Boleyn, who soon gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth. When Anne also failed to produce sons (and acted like a total pain in the arse), he had her executed, annulled their marriage and made Elizabeth a bastard, too. At about the same time, a lonely Catherine, still devoted to Henry as her true husband, passed away. With both of his first wives safely deceased, Henry felt he could finally make a valid marriage. When Wife #3, Jane Seymour gave him a son, the future Edward VI, it reaffirmed all of his beliefs.

He was sentimental about Jane, who died soon after her son was born, and thought her his best wife. Nevertheless, I think that the bride of his youth, Catherine, was his favorite. He certainly loved her for a longer time than he did any of the others. They were married nearly 20 years before he decided to end it and almost 24 years by the time of the annulment. Their marriage was longer than his other five marriages combined.

03 January 2021

A Long-Lived Princess: Alice of Albany

from Canada national Archives via Wikimedia Commons
Having another grandchild was not generally an extraordinary moment for Queen Victoria, who already had 33 when a new little princess arrived at Windsor Castle on Feb. 25, 1883. Indeed a grandson had been born there just six weeks earlier, but this new little girl, named Alice after her aunt who had died in 1878, was unexpected: Queen Victoria had assumed that the baby's father could not have children due to his health. More amazingly, Victoria, who often called babies ugly and froglike, thought the new baby was beautiful.

Princess Alice of Albany was born just 10 months after her father Prince Leopold Duke of Albany married Princess Helena of Waldeck-Pyrmont. The youngest of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's four sons, Leopold had grown up overprotected and on a much shorter leash than his older brothers. Victoria thought him and handsome and clever but she fretted that any activity could lead to his death. He was the first member of her family to exhibit the dreaded hemophilia that would come to haunt the Russian Imperial Family, the Spanish Royal Family and other royal families through Victoria's daughters and granddaughters. Victoria thought fathering a child would prove too rigorous for him, but Leopold and his bride proved her wrong. By the end of 1883, Helena was expecting again, but Leopold's health was troublesome. On the advice of his doctors, he decided to escape the British climate as he had done many times before. With one young infant and an advancing pregnancy, Helena opted to stay home while Leopold traveled to Cannes. In late March, the prince slipped on the stairs, banging his knee and his head. Injuries which would be mere annoyances for most people proved deadly for him: unable to stop internal bleeding he died in less than 24 hours.  

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Baby Alice was 13 months old. Her little brother, Prince Charles Edward was born four months later and became Duke of Albany upon his birth. The widowed Helena was 23, but determined to take a strong role in her children's upbringing. (Her sister Emma was widowed a few years later and left to raise her daughter Wilhelmina, who had become Queen of the Netherlands at age 10. See my posts Abdicating Queens and End of the Queen Streak.) Helena's efforts to raise her children as "good Englishmen"--even sending Charlie to Eton--were thwarted when her son was selected as the heir to his uncle, Prince Alfred the Duke of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, who had himself inherited it from his Uncle Ernst, older brother of Prince Albert. It was heartbreaking for the family to have to uproot and move to Germany where the teenaged Charles Edward could now learn to be a "good German." The family was separated permanently when Helena and Alice returned to live in England in 1903, believing that the 19-year-old Duke was well-established. The pain of their separation grew even more during the first World War, when Charles Edward fought on the German side and had his English rights and titles revoked even after the German Revolution of November 1918 forced him to abdicate his ducal role. As Alice would later write in her 1966 memoirs, For My Grandchildren, the war "shattered" her brother's life as "he was denounced in Germany for being English and in England for being German." By World War II, he was nationality was clear: he was a full-fledged Nazi. Despite Alice's pleas on his behalf, his American captors would not release him. At his trial, he was exonerated of crimes against humanity (which saved his life) but was order to undergo de-nazification and fined to the point of near bankruptcy.

As for Alice, she lived a decidedly British life -- though not without further tragedies. Shortly before her 20th birthday, she married the dashing Prince Alexander of Teck, a member of a morganatic branch of the Hessian Grand Ducal Family which had been granted titles by the King of Wurttemberg. Alexander's mother was Queen Victoria's popular cousin, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, the youngest grandchild of King George III. More importantly, Alexander or Alge as he was affectionately known, was the brother of the Princess of Wales, better known to us today as Queen Mary. Therefore, Alice's children were first cousins of King Edward VIII and King George VI and Alice herself was a beloved aunt to Queen Elizabeth II.

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Alice and Alge's three children (May, Rupert and Maurice) were born as Princess and Princes of Teck in 1906, 1907, and 1910. Unfortunately, as the daughter of hemophiliac (see Unofficial Royalty's information about hemophilia), Alice was a carrier of the gene, which she passed to her sons. Maurice died as an infant. Rupert died of otherwise survivable injuries following an auto accident in France when he was 20. He was buried at Frogmore, Windsor. Having lived with the knowledge that their son could die for any small injury at any time, Alice and Alge were nonetheless devastated even more so because they were in South Africa and unable to attend his funeral during an age when even air flight could not have brought them to England quickly enough. 

In 1917, when all of the extended British Royal Family relinquished their German styles and titles, Alice as a male-line granddaughter of British monarch remained a royal highness and princess, but her husband and children no longer had princely rank and changed their surname to Cambridge. A British Army officer on active duty in the war, Alge was simply Sir Alexander Cambridge for a few months until his brother-in-law King George V created him 1st Earl of Athlone and Viscount Trematon. From then on, his wife was styled as HRH Princess Alice Countess of Athlone.

Alice traveled widely on behalf of the Crown throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and North America during the early years of her marriage. Later, Alge served as Governor General of South Africa from 1924 to 1930 and Governor General of Canada from 1940 to 1946. During both appointments, Alice was a popular and active vicereine. In Canada, she was particularly busy helping the many displaced royal cousins who had fled to Canada ahead of Nazi invasions. Her three grandchildren, like many other British youngsters, also came to Canada. They and their mother stayed with Alice and Alge. So did Alice's cousin Queen Wilhelmina's daughter then-Crown Princess Juliana and her children, who had fled The Netherlands ahead of the Nazi invasion. 

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After the war, Alice and Alge returned to Britain to take up residence again at their Kensington Palace apartment and their country home Brantridge in West Sussex. Like other British princesses, she remained actively engaged with honorary military appointments, university chancellorships, and charitably patronages at home and in the Commonwealth. Alge passed away in 1957 at Kensington Palace. His widow maintained an unofficial role in the British Royal Family as a kind of protocol advisor and participated in major public royal events including the Trooping the Color balcony appearances. Privately, she was often seen around the Kensington neighborhood to attend church and visit the shops.

When she passed away on January 3, 1981 seven weeks shy of her 98th birthday, she was not only the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria but the oldest surviving member of the British Royal Family. She has since been surpassed by two of her nephews' wives, The Queen Mother and Princess Alice The Duchess of Gloucester, as well as by The Duke of Edinburgh, but they all married into the family. She remains the oldest person born as a British Royal. The first person who could surpass her is Queen Elizabeth II, who will not reach the same age until April 2024.

For more about Princess Alice, Countess of Albany:
Birth of Princess Alice of Albany, Countess of Athlone on European Royal History
Dear Leopold's Child on History of Royal Women
Frankness and Candour on History of Royal Women
Princess Alice, Countess of Albany on Unofficial Royalty

Books about Princess Alice, Countess of Albany: