Saturday, 19 April 2014

A micro history of Henry VIII

I’ve written this to go with my new novel, published on April 25th; there is a link to it in the beginning of the ebook.

Kings and Queens is the story of twentieth century property developer Harry Lanchester - which is also a modern day version of the true life story of Henry VIII and his six wives.  Kings and Queens can be read as any contemporary drama; you do not need knowledge about this period in history in order to enjoy it.  However, I wrote this for readers who don't know much about it but feel they would appreciate the novel more if they knew a little background about my characters’ historical counterparts before reading. 

Incidentally, you will see the trouble I had with the names of my characters; fifty per cent of the men are called Thomas, never mind the Catherines, Marys, Henrys and Annes!

A (very) micro history of Henry VIII and his six wives

The Wars of the Roses came to an end when Henry VII (Henry Tudor), of the House of Lancaster (red rose), beat Richard III (House of York – white rose) in battle, and claimed the throne.  He married Elizabeth Woodville (House of York), thus uniting the two houses.  Their children were Arthur, Henry, Margaret and Mary. 

Henry and his siblings were brought up in Eltham House.  His paternal grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, was an enormously determined woman who did much to facilitate her son’s claim to the throne.

So Arthur, as eldest son, was heir to the throne.  He married Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.  However, he died as a youth, while his father the King was still alive.  The young Henry had intended to go into the church and was also a keen musician, but now became heir apparent.  He married his late brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, and became King shortly before his eighteenth birthday.  He and Catherine were said to be in love (ie, it wasn’t just political); she was a great help to him in matters of state, and was also very popular with the people.

Henry got rid of some of his father's old courtiers almost immediately, and started to distribute titles/knighthoods/land to his own friends, and spend money.  The people he kept on and who were his biggest influences were Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Thomas More.  His father had been avaricious and shrewd, and left the country with bursting coffers.  Henry VIII was the opposite: flamboyant, a lover of luxury and partying, keen huntsman, philanderer, etc.  He overspent throughout his reign; this was a feature of it, not only on feasting and fine clothes but on wars, campaigns, and the building of palaces and great houses.  His whole court was one of opulence. 

Henry’s good friend Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, was married to Henry’s sister Mary for a while, about which Henry wasn’t pleased as he hadn’t given them permission.  Charles married twice more; in my story, Will’s wife Rosie comes from my imagination only and bears no relation to Catherine Willoughby (the fourth Mrs Charles Brandon) apart from her surname; Charles Brandon’s wives had little bearing on the real life story.   Henry’s sister Margaret married James IV of Scotland.  For the sake of the story, I combined the two sisters in my novel.

Catherine of Aragon bore Henry only one child who lived past infancy – Mary (later to become Queen Mary, also known as Bloody Mary because she burnt a whole bunch of heretics at the stake).  Henry had affairs, usually with the ladies in waiting at court, one being with Lady Elizabeth Blount, who bore him a son, Henry.  This son was recognised in the line of succession although a bastard, but died when he was seventeen.

Henry and Catherine were married for about fifteen years when Henry met the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn.  The Boleyn’s family seat was Hever Castle in Kent.  Previously, Henry had had an affair with her sister, Mary, who was known for her 'dalliances'.  She was married to a William Carey at the time, and later married a commoner called William Stafford, with whom she was said to have had a happy marriage.  The Boleyns were a very ambitious family.  The father, Thomas, was made Earl, and there was also a brother, George (Lord Rochford), who was probably homosexual but married Jane Parker, later Lady Rochford.  Henry fell madly in love with Anne, who was known for her wit and allure.  She had spent some time at the French court, the height of sophistication in those days.  Henry wanted her to be his mistress but she refused, which heightened his desire to marry her. 

During this time, a new clerk was appointed – Thomas Cromwell.  He came from humble beginnings (the son of a brewer in Putney) but had worked his way up.  Over the years he gained Henry’s favour and became Chancellor and Lord Privy Seal.

At the time, England was Roman Catholic, and deferred to the Pope for all decisions over such questions as whether or not a king’s marriage was legal in the eyes of God, or if it could be annulled, or ended by divorce.  Henry wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne - Catherine was older than him, had grown fat, and he was said to be bored with her; she was nearing the menopause and was unlikely to bear him a son.  Catherine was a devout Catholic but Anne was in favour of reform – what came to be called Protestant.  To cut a VERY long story of about five years short, in order to do what he wanted, Henry eventually got his marriage to Catherine declared invalid, and married Anne.  It was finally facilitated by Thomas Cranmer, who Henry had made Archbishop of Canterbury because he was in favour of the new religious changes.  Henry declared himself head of the new Church of England.  Much was also engineered by Anne’s father and uncle.  There was great feeling in the country that Henry was pushing out the old (Catherine, Catholicism and deference to the Pope) to usher in the new (Anne, and religious reform).  This was not popular, as the people had loved Catherine and felt strongly about religion.  In the north of the country, in particular, there was much bad feeling, as many monasteries were burned down, taken over and ransacked, the profits going into the country’s coffers or spread around selected nobles.

Henry required everyone to sign a paper saying that they accepted him as head of the Church.  His old friend and mentor, Sir Thomas More, would not do so, because of his religious conscience.  Henry had him beheaded. 

During the latter years of Henry’s marriage to Anne, he had a fall during a joust which gave him a leg injury from which he never recovered, and was said to change his temperament.  He was no longer physically active, grew fat, and was in much pain.

Anne gave birth to Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I).  She didn’t have any more children, and Henry began taking mistresses again.  He regretted the execution of Thomas More, and blamed Anne for bewitching him.  He began to lose interest in her, especially as she gave him no son and heir.  Anne was a great social butterfly and her court was always full of musicans, poets, etc.  Half of them were thought to be homosexuals, especially her favourite lute player, Mark Smeaton, and Francis Weston, who was thought to be her brother George’s lover.  Also present was one who had adored her since before Henry’s time, Thomas Wyatt.  Rumours started amongst her ladies that she took lovers.  This was all untrue, but fuel was added by George Boleyn’s wife, Jane, because she was jealous of George and Anne’s close relationship.  Anne’s friends and brother were rounded up and beheaded, as was Anne.  Thomas Boleyn was a broken man.

During the latter days of Henry’s marriage to Anne, he became enamoured of Jane Seymour, who became one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting.  He married her only ten days after Anne’s execution.  She quiet, innocent and demure, the opposite of Anne, and did not interfere in matters of state, which he liked.  Her brothers became important at Court – Edward, the elder one, who was ambitious and a cold fish, and the younger, Thomas, a bit of a loafer.  She gave birth to Henry’s son, Edward, and died a few weeks later. 

During the time Henry was married to Jane, there was a huge rebellion in the north, headed by Lord Darcy of Pontefract castle, and a rabble rouser called Robert Aske; it was mostly about the religious changes. Charles Brandon headed the mission to quell it, and many were hanged or beheaded, including Ask and Darcy.  Henry made promises to the Northerners that he did not keep, including not attending a meeting they had arranged in which compromises were to be discussed.  After the rebellion was over, Pontefract castle was given to a lord called Ralph Elleker.

After Jane died, Henry went into mourning for about 2 years.  Then Thomas Cromwell said they should search for a new wife for him, as he only had one son.  He came up with Anne, of Cleves in Germany, for political reasons, and because the family were Lutherans – Cromwell was this way inclined, too.  She was the less vivacious younger daughter of the Duke of Cleves, her elder sister Sybilla having married John Frederick of Saxony.  Henry agreed to the betrothal after seeing only her portrait, but when they met she did not appeal to him (there are many stories about this) and the marriage, which lasted only 6 months, was never consummated.  He had it annulled.  Anne got on very well with his daughters Elizabeth and Mary.  After the marriage she was given property and land, referred to as The King’s Beloved Sister, and was still invited to court as an honoured guest.  She lived for many years but never married again and grew very fat; she was said to be content with her life. 

Thomas Cromwell was not popular with Henry after the Anne of Cleves episode.  Charles Brandon and others had never liked him, because of his religious viewpoint, and he was beheaded.  Henry was said to have regretted this, too, saying that he had no-one else as good to oversee the coffers of the realm. 

During the time Henry was with Anne of Cleves, he met Catherine Howard.  She was just seventeen.  He called her his ‘rose without a thorn’.  She was from the same family as the Boleyns (the Howards, a very powerful and large family), but was an orphan.  She was brought up in the house of a dowager duchess, who housed many like her.  There, she was initiated into certain sexual practices by her music teacher, Henry Mannox.  She had a lover, Francis Dereham, from when she was only fourteen.  When Henry saw her he became infatuated, and as soon as Anne of Cleves had gone, she became his intended.  He showered her with gifts, and gave her anything she wanted.  She was said to be very frivolous and girlish; in fact, probably just young.  Before she and Henry married, a girl from the house in which she grew up showed up at court and told Catherine she was in need of money, a job and a home.  Her name was Jane Bulmer.  Catherine made her one of her ladies-in-waiting, partly to make sure she kept quiet about her past.  She and Henry married.  Then Francis Dereham showed up too, and she appointed him to her household, which she did because, again, she was scared he would reveal her past.

Henry wanted Catherine to give him a son, but she failed to get pregnant.  Then she fell in love with Thomas Culpepper, Henry’s groom.  They would have secret trysts, arranged by the late George Boleyn’s wife, Lady Rochford, who was also one of her ladies.  A man called John Lascelles had a sister who had known about Catherine’s activities before she met Henry, and he warned Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, thus bringing about Catherine's downfall.  Enquries were made, and Francis Dereham was arrested.  Catherine’s ladies were questioned, and evidence about Thomas Culpepper given by Jane Bulmer and Lady Rochford.  Culpepper, Dereham, Lady Rochford and Catherine were all beheaded, Lady Rochford because she had facilitated the trysts.

During this time, Princess Mary had led a really lonely and unhappy life, kept away from her mother Catherine of Aragon who lived in very reduced circumstances (she died while Henry was married to Anne Boleyn).  Many marriages were arranged for Mary but failed to come to anything, and she grew bitter about the way she and her mother had been treated, and more devout. Princess Elizabeth was said to have vowed never to marry, and was headstrong like her mother Anne Boleyn.  Prince Edward was greatly cossetted, and never in very good health.  

About two years later, Henry was introduced to Catherine Parr.  She had been married twice, firstly to Edward Borough who went mad, then to the elderly Lord Latimer, who was very ill.  She was having an affair with Thomas Seymour, the younger brother of Jane Seymour and uncle of Prince Edward, and wanted to marry him.  However, Henry wanted to marry her – and one didn’t refuse the King of England!  They married shortly after Lord Latimer died.  Henry sent Thomas away to maintain a position on the continent, to keep him from Catherine, who was most upset by this.  Henry was said to be very happy with her apart from the fact that England was swaying towards Catholicism again by then, and Catherine was in favour of reform.  He saved her from being tried for heresy.  Her lady-in-waiting, Anne Askew, was burnt at the stake for it; despite Catherine's protection she was put on the rack by the Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley (pronounced Risley).  Catherine did a great deal to bring Henry closer to his daughters again. 

During his marriage to Catherine Parr, Henry died.  This was probably brought on by his lifestyle and obesity.  He was fifty-five.  After he died, Catherine married Thomas Seymour.  She was a fair bit older than him, and he'd had a flirtatious relationship with her step-daughter Princess Elizabeth, who lived with her.  Whether or not this was consumated nobody knows, but Elizabeth was sent to live elsewhere.  

Prince Edward became King on Henry’s death, with the country actually being run by a council of 16, including the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, and John Dudley, Viscount Lisle.

Here I shall end the story, as the rest will be in the sequel!

I hope this adds to your enjoyment of Kings and Queens, and thank you for reading.


  1. Probably the best summary of Henry VIII and his love life ever written :-)

    1. Ha ha! Thanks - well, it's concise, certainly!