Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 7
HENRY VIII, A MONARCH WHO KNEW HOW TO TURN HEADS
Henry VIII (1491-1547), King of England from 1509. Remember Luther? He tacked up his 95 Theses and started the whole ball rolling around 1517. Henry was staunchly Catholic, but un-staunched as the Reformation unfolded. (Staunch: firm and steadfast; true. One often hears of staunch Republicans, though I have never heard of a staunch Democrat but there must be some. Where was I? Oh yes... the Reformation) He was so staunch that he wrote a book in 1521 called “The Defense of the Seven Sacraments” for which Pope Leo X (not very staunch) rewarded Henry the title “Defender of the Faith.”
Henry’s life was charmed. He was young, handsome, both scholarly and athletic. His father Henry VII, had been so tight that he squeaked and thus left Henry with a full treasury. He had a lovely Spanish wife, the aunt of Emperor Charles V, the most powerful man on earth, (very, very staunch). She adored him. He was the very model of the Renaissance prince and was loved by all, except for the people whose heads he lopped off, beginning early in his reign with his miserly father’s finance ministers. Having taken care of the treasury department, he promptly started to spend all that money on his two favorite hobbies: building palaces and invading France.
Did I mention he was loved by all? Especially the Boleyn girls. There was a rumor that young prince Henry had been a very close friend of Lady Elizabeth Boleyn. Just scurrilous court gossip probably, but he was definitely a special friend of her daughter, Mary Boleyn by whom he may have had one or perhaps two children, and her little sister, Ann. All three of the Boleyn girls, mother and both daughters were ladies in waiting at the Tudor court. One wonders just what they were waiting for. Well, with Ann it became pretty clear. She was waiting for a wedding ring and the crown of England. Meanwhile, Henry’s Spanish wife had managed to produce one measly daughter and Henry wanted a son and heir a Henry IX, if you will.
He decided that he had sinned by marrying Queen Catherine who had been his brother’s wife. His brother had died and the king, Henry VII, (the miser), had not wanted to return Catherine’s dowry to her Spanish relatives, so he asked the pope for permission to marry his second son off to the first son’s widow. No problem. It seems that Prince Arthur and Princess Catherine had never managed to complete the nuptials (remember this is a family column), so what was the issue? A dead prince who had never really been a husband?
Well, much later, Henry decided that he was living in sin with a Spanish princess who had been his brother’s true wife. His conscience was sore grieved. It wasn’t sore grieved by the fact that he was catting about with any lady in waiting who didn’t have the good sense to wait somewhere else, including a couple of sisters who were young enough to have been his daughters, one of whom may well have been, (though modern scholars dispute this. I still can’t help mentioning it. It makes for fun reading.) Ann had more sense than most of them. She refused the king which drove him wild with etc., etc. So he decide to dump his Spanish wife, who had let herself go a little bit anyway, and petitioned the pope for an annulment.
The pope had problems with the annulment. Queen Catherine’s nephew, (remember him? the most powerful man in the world who had an army that had just sacked Rome). There was the little matter that the woman Henry wanted to marry was the sister of Henry’s former girlfriend and he was probably the father of two children to whom he would soon be uncle by marriage and heaven knows what else, and had a legitimate daughter, Mary, by his first wife, who was supposed to inherit the crown. All this would make birthdays and Christmas a little confusing, to say the least. What to do, being a staunch Catholic and all? Ann was a clever girl and gave the king a book called “The Obedience of the Christian Man” which essentially said that there are kings in the Bible, but no popes, and that the king should run the Church in his own country. Wycliff had said as much a long time ago. So to get on with the story.
Henry declared himself head of the Church in England, gave himself an annulment, married Ann, crowned her queen and then chopped her head off. Really. She was only queen for three years, but oh, what eventful years they were! She convinced Henry to appoint one of her family friends, Thomas Cranmer, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, who in turn sponsored Thomas Cromwell for the job of Chancellor. They were both convinced Protestants and helped Ann bring the Calvinist version of the Reformation to England. Cranmer was useful theologically and Cromwell politically. All those palaces and invasions of France were expensive, so Cromwell got the idea that if they closed down the monasteries, and confiscated their lands and the incomes, all would be well. Slight problem: the monasteries maintained the schools, orphanages, hospitals, soup kitchens, homes for poor and aged and rented the land at low rates to the rural poor.
Suddenly all the monks and nuns and the people they had served were homeless and wandered the countryside begging. Toward the end of Henry’s life, Cromwell tried to solve the problem by declaring vagrancy a crime punishable by enslavement and worse. That must have helped. The estimates vary, but usually hover around 70,000 dead in Henry’s reform of the Church in England.
As I mentioned, Ann got her crown but didn’t long have a head on which to wear it. She was accused of incest, adultery and a host of other things, having also produced one measly girl, Elizabeth. More about her later. Henry managed to carry on somehow. He managed to carry on with another lady in waiting. One day after Anne's execution, Henry got engaged to Jane Seymour, with whom he had recently been keeping company. They were married 10 days later.
She died in 1537 from complications of childbirth, but she had produced a male heir, Edward (more later). Henry went on to wed Anne of Cleves, a German Protestant princess whose Teutonic charms did not appeal to Henry. He annulled the marriage and moved on to Catherine Howard, you guessed it, another lady in waiting whom he eventually beheaded, and finally Catherine Parr, who managed to out-live the old goat. And so Henry died in 1547, he started out a young, athletic Catholic with a happy marriage. He died obese, crippled, and heretical, the husband of six wives and numerous mistresses. England was in turmoil and tens of thousands dead and many more homeless, but Henry did manage to produce three children and the Church of England.
NEXT WEEK: BLOODY MARY, GOOD QUEEN BESS AND THEIR LITTLE BROTHER