TT: More Lust! More Marriage! More Music!

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one to where I take a look at the often painful subject of Writer’s Block.  Then join me and Alan as we finish our journey through the lives and wives of Henry VIII.

JANE: Guess what?  I came across another reference to the “I’m Henry the VIII” song the other day – and this time it actually has an impact on the actual king.  I think this is a pretty good trick, given that the song wasn’t written until 1910 and Henry VIII died in 1547.

Henry VIII and Some Screen Selves

Henry VIII and Some Screen Selves

ALAN: Since I’m a science fiction fan, I’m guessing that time travel is involved here. Am I right?

JANE: Not quite… According to George MacDonald Fraser’s excellent book The Hollywood History of the World: “It is said that Alexander Korda [director of The Private Life of Henry VIII] conceived the film after hearing a cockney taxi-driver singing: “I’m ‘Enery the Eighth I am.”

(Note, the title of the song is given in a different version than I’ve encountered elsewhere, but one does not monkey with a direct quote!)

In this film, Henry was played by Charles Laughton, who presented the king as, to quote Fraser: “a deplorable caricature… a childish, selfish, posturing buffoon, a vain, ranting thing without intelligence or stature…. [a] gross, belching creature who strutted and postured and threw chicken-bones over his shoulder.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, this is the version that has stuck in the modern imagination.  Not long ago, Jim and I were unwinding to an episode of The Muppett Show and there was Zero Mostel, costumed after Henry VIII in the famous Hans Holbein portrait, doing yet another variation on the theme.

My understanding is that Henry VIII was actually an imposing and handsome man, at least in his youth.

ALAN: In his youth, Henry was a big, strong man, well over six feet tall and appropriately proportioned. He was often described as extremely handsome. He was very athletic and he excelled at hunting and jousting. In 1536, a jousting accident left him unconscious for two hours. After that his athletic activities tapered off and he began to put on weight. Late in life, he became grossly obese and required the aid of mechanical devices to move around. He was covered with pus-filled boils. An old jousting wound in his leg re-opened and proved impossible to treat, becoming severely ulcerated. He must have been in a lot of pain.

JANE: Oh, gross…  But you’re right, he must have hurt all the time.

ALAN: It is reported that Henry’s diet consisted largely of roast meat, and modern analysis of his symptoms suggests that he was suffering from scurvy and probably Type II diabetes as well since he almost never ate any fruit or vegetables.

JANE: That’s an interesting insight.  Probably explained his inability to heal as well.

Now, having disposed of movie-inspired myth, let’s get back to lust and marriage.

Henry rushed into marriages one, two, three, and four (or null, as the count may go).  I suppose he rushed into number five (or four) as well.

ALAN: Actually, not.  For a time, it seemed that Henry had given up on marriage. But three years later, when he was 49 years old, he married Catherine Howard who had been one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting.

JANE: Wait a minute.  This makes for his second Catherine.  We’ve already had two Annes.  Now we have two Catherines.  I’m beginning to feel much better about my chronic confusion regarding which wife was which and fit in where.

So how did Henry feel about Catherine II?

ALAN: Henry was delighted with his new wife and showered her with gifts of land and jewellery. However, Catherine was less than delighted with her new husband and soon embarked on an adulterous affair with a courtier called Thomas Culpeper. She also appointed an old lover called Francis Dereham as her secretary.

JANE: Well, given the condition you relate Henry being in, I can’t say I blame her.

I was right to anticipate lust and marriage.  At last, Henry VIII was getting some well-deserved payback at last.  This is starting to sound like a soap opera!

ALAN: Rumours of Catherine’s pre-marital affair reached the ear of Thomas Cranmer. Dereham was arrested and, under torture, admitted the affair. However, he denied having relations with the queen after her marriage, claiming that he had been supplanted in her affections by Culpeper.  Culpeper and the queen herself were arrested and interrogated.

JANE: How did Henry react to this?

ALAN: He flew into a rage and then went hunting. Culpeper, Dereham and Catherine were all executed.

JANE: While Henry was hunting?

ALAN: No – the hunt didn’t last that long! There was still the formality of a trial to be gone through, and these things take time. But the result was never in doubt.

JANE: Do you know whether they were beheaded or hanged and drawn and quartered?  The method seems to be some indication of Henry’s mood.

ALAN: Dereham and Culpeper were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Catherine was sentenced to be beheaded. Both men pleaded for mercy. Culpeper, who had been a close friend of Henry’s in his youth, had his sentence commuted to a simple beheading. Dereham’s sentence was not commuted and was carried out in full.

JANE: Ah, that regal mercy…

Okay.  Who’s the next victim?  I mean wife!

ALAN: In 1543, at the age of 52, Henry married his last wife, Catherine Parr.

JANE (with a cry of anguish): Not another Catherine!

ALAN: I fear so – we can’t argue with the facts of history.

By all accounts, they were happy together. Catherine was very close to all three of Henry’s children and personally helped with the education of Edward, Henry’s son by Jane Seymour, and Elizabeth, his daughter by Anne Boleyn. She persuaded Henry to pass an Act of Succession in 1543 which clearly set out the status of the children, bringing both Elizabeth and Mary (his daughter by Catherine of Aragon) legally into the line of succession to the throne. Edward, Mary and Elizabeth were first, second and third in the line of succession.

JANE: Very neat and tidy.  I guess Catherine was pretty certain she wasn’t going to supply any children.  Henry had a son by this point, so he didn’t need to worry…

Well, actually he did need to worry.  First though, let’s resolve the current generation.  What happened to the generous-spirited Catherine?  Did she survive her husband?

ALAN: She survived him by a year. After Henry died, she married an old flame, Sir Thomas Seymour. He was  actually the brother of Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. Small world, isn’t it?

Anyway, she soon became pregnant, but died in childbirth in 1548. She was only 35 years old…

JANE: So if Catherine strongly suspected that she wouldn’t have children with Henry (as her part in setting up the succession seems to indicate), it must have been because of Henry.  I wonder if he was beyond sexual intercourse by that time.

One more question.  Early on, you said that Henry had either six wives or four.  The marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled.  Who was the other unlucky wife?

ALAN: That depends…

Henry married six women. That is incontrovertible. But whether or not they were all his wives is quite a different question.

If you are Catholic, then Henry had four legal marriages: Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. If you are a Protestant, he also had four legal marriages: Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.

As you noted, the marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled. An annulment is not a divorce – it means that, legally speaking, the marriage simply never happened. Henry actually annulled his marriages to Anne Boleyn, and Catherine Howard prior to their executions, so it can also be argued that, from his point of view, he really only had two wives: Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr!

And I’m sure a legal / theological brain could come up with other equally valid uxorial combinations…

JANE: Wait…  Wouldn’t he still have viewed his marriage to Catherine of Aragon as valid?  I’m not sure how even the Protestants could have ruled this one out.

ALAN: No, not at all. Remember, it was Henry’s attempt to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled that triggered his break with Rome in the first place.  The pope refused his request, so the Catholics continued to consider the marriage to be legal. But in order to be able to marry Anne Boleyn, Henry had the marriage declared null and void by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. So as far as the Protestants were concerned, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon never actually happened at all!

JANE: Well that certainly straightens that out!  What an incredibly twisted tale.  It doesn’t end with the Henries, of course.  In fact, despite all the care he took, the succession of Henry VIII is worth looking at…   Oh…  And we never did get to those monasteries.  But it’s the holiday season.  They may need to wait.

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8 Responses to “TT: More Lust! More Marriage! More Music!”

  1. Paul Genesse Says:

    Henry VIII was a fascinating figure, with so many sides (and chins). I feel sorry for his wives and enemies.

  2. Louis Robinson Says:

    Feel sorry for his friends, too. Not only was it remarkably difficult to retain that status, but it made you a marked man in later years. And Bloody Mary did more than a little to earn her sobriquet, as I expect we’ll be hearing on a Thursday Yet To Come.

  3. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I still remember the way my professor of English History suggested we recall the wives of Henry the eighth: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. That class was in 1968, I believe.

  4. janelindskold Says:

    Hope you don’t mind, Louis, but we’re going to take a break from the English monarchs for a few weeks. We’re coming back though, since both Alan and I are having a lot of fun with this. Especially for an American, filling in the gaps is very exciting.

    And now that I’m reading about Churchill, I have this mad desire to indulge in WWII.

  5. Alan Robson Says:

    We’re taking a break from monarchs, but we’re not taking a break from tangents.

    Watch this space.

    And I have lots of stories about WWII…


    -Alan

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      Oh Goody! Maybe we can get those Southrons – except they’re Northrons for you, of course – to believe that they didn’t win WWII at all, at all 🙂

  6. Tom MacCarrol Says:

    Re: question of Henry’s ‘inability’: If he did have diabetes, he may well have been unable. When one’s blood is trying to turn into pancake syrup, the necessary circulation just ain’t happening.

  7. Other Jane Says:

    I was always confused about Henry VIII’s wives. It helps to know there were 3 Catherine and 2 Annes!

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