In this post, I will share about another one of my favorite people to study in history – King Henry VIII. As his life is long and complicated, I will write only about his early years and the events in which Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, was alive and played an active part.
King Henry VIII of
reigned for 38 years. He broke away
from the Roman Catholic Church and married six women to produce a male
heir. He is known for his extravagant
lifestyle, his warring nature, and is seen as destroying the Catholic Church in
to divorce his wife. Many of these
conceptions are not entirely true. There
were many reasons for his break from the Roman Catholic Church and his
determination to win England
back. Henry was also known for bringing France England back into Europe with his conquests to
regain the portions of
that had once been under English control. France
King Henry VIII received advice from his father, Henry VII, on his deathbed. He advised him to do three things and left him with councilors to aid him in his ruling of the country. He wished his son to marry Catherine of Aragon, to defend the Church against the infidels and urged him to execute Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, who was a traitor. Henry VIII fulfilled his father's wishes in all three accounts. He did marry Catherine, defend the Church, and – in the spring of 1513 – he executed de la Pole.
After his older brother, Prince Arthur, died, Henry's life became severely restricted. His father was with him almost all the time. He was never given any real responsibility or independence for fear that he would also die and leave the kingdom in the hands of either his sister Margaret and her husband (the King of Scotland) or his other sister, Mary (still unwed). As a youth, his education included theology, mathematics, music, and languages such as Latin, French, Italian, and probably Spanish.
On June 23, 1509, the procession that led to his coronation took place. Henry's coronation was quite extravagant with revels, pageants – which the newly crowned king took part in, tilts, jousts, dancing, and music concerts. Henry soon became known as a Renaissance Prince for he was regarded as an athlete and an intellectual – as well as a sportsman and a musician. He also took part in courtly love. Henry was described as being extremely handsome, 6 feet tall, strong, and having a desire to dress up in jewels, silks, and feathers.
Unlike his father, Henry VIII considered the duty of the King not to make treaties but to win victories. The nobility of
lived in a world where war could bring adventure and honor along with quick money. Henry saw himself as the military leader that
would bring his people glory in war. England
Before Henry could lead his country into war, he would need to secure succession to the Tudor throne. Catherine of Aragon was left widowed upon Prince Arthur's death. A papal dispensation was needed for Henry and Catherine's marriage to take place. If the marriage between Catherine and Arthur had been consummated then they would need a dispensation on the grounds of "impediment of affinity in the first-degree collateral." If the marriage had not been consummated, as Catherine insisted, they would need a dispensation from the impediment of public honesty, which they did not seek. These details would cause problems when Henry would seek divorce from Catherine in 1527.
Henry Marries Catherine
King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were married on June 11, 1509. Whether it was his wish to obey his father, the dispensation from the Pope, the gold of the dower, or the desire to form strong royal bloodlines that encouraged him, it was evident that in the early years Henry did love his Queen. At 23, Catherine was devout, pretty, and his "lady-love." He wrote songs for her and publicly expressed his devotion. She became pregnant shortly after their marriage, only to give birth to a stillborn daughter in May 1510. During the early years of Henry and Catherine's marriage, there were continuous festivities, with masks, comedies, and revels in which Henry played parts. It was during these festivities that King Henry most probably became acquainted with ladies of the court.
Shortly after becoming king and marrying Catherine, Henry first received a taste of war and deception when he agreed to send aid to Ferdinand of Aragon, his father-in-law, to drive the Moors from
North Africa. Unfortunately, when the English troops arrived
there they soon discovered that Ferdinand had abandoned the plan and the
English ended up in
getting drunk and killing several Christians. Spain
Catherine gave birth to Henry, Prince of Wales, on January 1, 1511, to great celebrations. King Henry traveled on a pilgrimage to thank "Our Lady" and began to plan an enlargement of the court for his son and future heir. In approximately seven weeks, however, the heir had died and was buried with a lavish funeral. In October 1513, Catherine suffered a miscarriage. In December 1514, she gave birth to a boy who didn't survive. In February 1516, she gave birth to Mary, who was named after her aunt. Her last pregnancy ended with a stillborn daughter in November 1518. Even though Catherine's pregnancy years were over there were still hopes that Henry would have a male heir. In 1519, a son (Henry Fitzroy) was born to one of Henry's mistresses, Bessie Blount. Beginning in 1526, he began receiving titles such as Duke of Richmond and
. Henry Fitzroy would also gain the rank of Lord High Admiral of Somerset . For a while it appeared that he would become
the king's heir but in July of 1536 at 17 years old he died. England
While Henry was in
his wife, Catherine, was made "Governor of the Realm and Captain-General
of the Forces" with a council to aid her in decision making. On September 9, 1513, James IV, King of
Scotland, led his people against the English under the Earl of Surrey at the
Battle of Flodden. In three hours, almost
all of the Scottish aristocracy had been killed – including the King. Henry had missed both the France battling on behalf of the Holy League, Battle of the Spurs, the only open engagement in France, and the Battle of Flodden, a decisive
battle between Scotland and . He was not really living up to his idea of winning victories. England
Henry said after Mary's birth, "By the grace of God, the sons will follow." During his lifetime, the Christian viewpoint of childbirth was not biological. Most believed that God either passed the parents' sins onto the child or that parents were punished by not being allowed to have any children. So, it was very likely that Henry believed divine favor was necessary for a successful childbirth. Henry had begun to question why no living male heir had been born and – in the Old Testament – he found his answer. Using Leviticus 20:21 out of context, he saw his marriage as a sin. The lack of male children was his punishment for sinning. Henry felt the pope had no right to go against biblical law (specifically the Levitical commandment that a man must not marry his brother's wife). Whether Leviticus referred to seducing a living brother's wife or Henry's position, Henry was determined it applied to his lack of male heirs by his marriage to Catherine.
On May 5, 1527, Henry met Anne Boleyn, Catherine's newest attendant. At the same time secret proceedings were opened to judge the validity of the king's marriage to Catherine. In June, Henry decided he must tell Catherine about the proceedings and that their marriage was never lawful but it was too late, she had already found out.
During the summer of 1527, the imperial forces of German Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Catherine's nephew) had sacked
and Pope Clement VII was at his mercy. It was during this opportune time that
Catherine appealed to her nephew, who supported her. When Henry approached Clement VII for an
annulment, all the pope could do was agree to a dispensation permitting
his remarriage. Clement VII suggested the
English courts pass sentence and then after Henry remarried the validity of
that union could be proven by Rome . This was not a viable solution for Henry
because the legitimacy of the children by this second marriage could be
questioned. Clement even tried to
persuade Catherine to enter a nunnery, to no avail. Rome
Since none of the pope's suggestions were to Henry's likening, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio was sent to
investigate the King's 'great matter' and – if possible – bring the King and
Queen back together but he was to make no decision without 's consent. In May 1529, the Rome Legatine Court opened. Conflicting
biblical teachings were to be argued to either prove or disprove Henry's case.
Catherine only wanted the Pope to pass judgment on the case, because she felt she would not receive a fair hearing in
. She made one dramatic appeal to the King,
saying at his feet, "'When ye had me at the first I take to God to be my
judge, I was a true maid without the touch of man….'" During this, Henry remained silent and
Catherine refused to return to the court. At the end of July 1529, Campeggio halted the
proceedings according to the Roman calendar and the court would not meet again. England
In the summer of 1531, Catherine was sent away from court. At 48 years old, on April 9, 1533, she was told she was no longer the Queen but only the Princess Dowager, the widow of Prince Arthur. On January 7, 1536, Catherine, whose motto as Queen had been 'humble and loyal,' passed away with her death celebrated by her former husband and King.
Even after years of studying the life and times of Henry VIII, I am still amazed at how much of his own biography – his own life history – is tied up with that of his wives and family members. We are never truly separate from those in our family.
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