Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas!



Christmas always seems to come quickly. A time of joy, it is also a time of sorrow, a time of remembrance and a time of peace. All of these qualities reinforce that the meanings of Christmas are complex, but that complexity accounts, in part, for its beauty. 

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of those who read this blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I greatly appreciate your support of this blog and I hope that you will continue to read future posts.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Anne Boleyn and the French Hood


Above: The most well-known portrait of Anne (left).
Natalie Dormer played an especially fashionable Anne in television series The Tudors (right).


Anne Boleyn is, and was, regarded as an elegant woman who deeply loved fashion. It is telling that the virulent propagandist Nicholas Sander, who claimed in his account that Anne was monstrously deformed, felt compelled to describe Anne's love of dress thus: 'She was unrivalled in the gracefulness of her attire, and the fertility of her invention in devising new patterns, which were imitated by all the court belles, by whom she was regarded as the glass of fashion'. If we were not aware of Sander's background and his fierce opposition to Henry VIII's second marriage, we might think that he was an admirer of Anne. Whether, in describing her love of dress, he was merely relating a fact about the queen, or whether he was using it to portray Anne as frivolous, is uncertain. While there has as yet been no individual study of Anne Boleyn's clothing, in most biographies of her there is some exploration of her love of dress. 

Sander later explained: 'She was the model and the mirror of those who were at court, for she was always well-dressed, and every day made some change in the fashion of her garments'. Sander was probably drawing on contemporary evidence dating from Anne's own lifetime. Lancelot de Carles, a French scholar, poet and diplomat who was at court at the time of Anne's fall, described her as 'beautiful and with an elegant figure'. George Wyatt, who wrote a sympathetic account of Anne, described her as well-dressed. 

Contemporary observers, then, tended to agree that Henry's second wife was elegant and well-dressed. However, none of them referred to Anne's supposed favourite garment - the French hood. Modern history writers have tended to assert ad verbatim that Anne either introduced the French hood to England or popularised its use following her return to England in 1522. There is surprisingly little evidence for the first assertion. This blog post seeks to examine the evidence for the headdresses that Anne favoured and seeks to ask the question of whether Anne introduced, or popularised, the French hood in England.

Above: The most well-known portraits of Anne present her wearing a French hood (left).
Anne has become so associated with the French hood that it almost always appears in popular representations of her, as in the film The Other Boleyn Girl (right).

As we have seen, contemporary writers stressed Anne's love of fashion and her ability to dress well, whether they were her admirers or her enemies. They did not, however, describe her as wearing the French hood, which is perhaps surprising given that it was a garment viewed as elegant and chic. We have some surviving accounts of Anne's personal spending on clothes. Shortly before her arrest, we know that she bought gowns in tawny velvet with black lambs' fur; in velvet without fur; in damask; in satin, furred with miniver; a russet gown in heavy silk; two in black velvet and one in black damask; one in white satin; one with crimson sleeves; a purple cloth of gold gown lined with silver; eight nightgowns; three cloaks; and thirteen kirtles. Anne's gowns were often embroidered with jewels; in early 1532, for example, she was provided with a gown with nineteen diamonds set in trueloves of gold, along with twenty-one rubies and twenty-one diamonds set in gold roses and hearts. 

At every occasion, Anne's costume was detailed - at court entertainments, at her coronation, and most spectacularly, on the scaffold. We know that she seemed to favour the colour black. We also learn from her accounts that she was greatly occupied with her daughter Elizabeth's attire. In a period of three months, the queen bought her daughter a gown of orange velvet, kirtles of russet velvet, of yellow satin, white damask and green satin, embroidered purple satin sleeves, a black muffler, white ribbon, Venice ribbon, a russet damask bedspread and a taffeta cap covered with a caul of gold. Anne's lavish spending on dress should not be misidentified as evidence of vanity or frivolousness. At this time, a monarch was expected to be immaculately dressed and be spectacular in appearance, in order both to impress and reassure one's subjects, and to project a confident aura to neighbouring kingdoms. In dressing outstandingly, Anne was seeking to glorify her husband's lineage and strengthen her claim to be England's true queen.

There is some evidence that Anne wore the French hood. In the same accounts that detail Anne's expenditure on gowns, it is related that she spent up to £9 on the French hood, a costly sum in the sixteenth-century. In surviving paintings of the queen, she is usually portrayed wearing the French hood, as can be seen in the most famous portrait of her housed at the National Portrait Gallery (see the top of the page). However, it is worthwhile asking whether she really did introduce the French hood to England. The short answer to this is no.

Above: Anne of Brittany wearing the French hood, c. 1500-1510.

The French hood was characterised by its rounded shape, and was worn over a coif that was tied under the chin or secured to the hair. It had a black veil attached to the back, which covered the back hair completely and hung in a straight fashion. The billaments were usually costly, these forming the decorative border along the upper edge of the hood and the front edge of the coif. As the name indicates, this style of headdress was especially popular in France and probably originated in Brittany. Early admirers of the hood included the consort Anne of Brittany, who is shown wearing it in numerous depictions of her. Claude of France, wife of Francois I, also favoured the French hood, as can be seen in surviving portraits of the queen. 

Above: Claude of France favoured the French hood, as can be seen in this portrait of her.

The French hood was similar to the round hood, which was worn by women living in the Imperial territories. Queen Juana of Castile, for example, favoured the round hood. By the time that Anne Boleyn arrived in England, the French hood was a popular and fashionable item of headwear worn across Europe, especially in its native land. Its use was not yet, however, widespread in England. Interestingly, the first English woman portrayed wearing the French hood was not Anne, but Henry VIII's younger sister Mary, duchess of Suffolk. In 1515, Mary married Charles, duke of Brandon, and the couple were painted the following year. It is not surprising that Mary favoured the French hood. At the age of eighteen, she had married Louis XII of France, thus becoming the French queen in the process. Presumably, she chose to wear the French hood as queen in order to appear fashionable: as we have seen, contemporary monarchs were expected to appear dressed in lavish costume in order to glorify the monarchy. Following the death of Louis and her remarriage, Mary chose to continue wearing the French hood in order to appear fashionable and to emphasise her rank: she was one of the highest-ranking women in the kingdom because of both her Tudor blood and her marriage to a duke, one of only two in England. For Mary, the French hood was associated with lineage, with power, and with splendour.

Above: Mary Tudor and her second husband, Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. In the portrait, Mary is wearing a French hood.

By the time that Anne Boleyn returned to England in the mid-1520s, the French hood was not yet a garment that was worn by many women at court. While Mary Brandon favoured it, the majority of English noblewomen and gentlewomen continued to wear the gable hood, which was also worn by Katherine of Aragon. Given the popularity of the French hood in continental Europe and its early usage in England, it cannot truly be claimed that Anne Boleyn 'introduced' the garment to England, because it was already known there. It is possible, however, that she popularised its usage. As we have seen, few female courtiers wore the French hood in the mid-1520s. Anne Boleyn spent great sums on the garment and, presumably, wore it on a regular basis, although it cannot be known for certainty. 

There are numerous difficulties in using Anne Boleyn's reputed portraiture to assert that she favoured the French hood. A recent trend, first advocated by Susan E. James and later mentioned by G.W. Bernard in his recent biography of Anne, asserts that the standard portraits of Anne are not of her at all, but are probably based on paintings of Henry's sister Mary. Certainly, there are facial and physical similarities, and James claims that the 'B' choker worn by the sitter actually refers to the surname Brandon, rather than Boleyn. While James' claim has been refuted, her argument does warn of the dangers in viewing alleged portraiture of Anne as true depictions of the real woman. The distinguished historian Lacey Baldwin Smith famously referred to Tudor portraits bearing as much resemblance to their sitters as elephants to prunes. This is nowhere more true than in the case of Anne Boleyn. 

Recent research has questioned whether the NPG portrait of Anne is a portrait of the queen at all. Following her downfall, the majority of paintings of Anne were destroyed or hidden away, and only after her daughter Elizabeth's accession to the throne was it deemed acceptable to paint her again. Thus, the majority of portraits of Anne are later copies, dating at least forty or fifty years, if not more, after her death. The NPG portrait, and the Hever Castle version in which Anne is shown holding a red rose, were painted late in the sixteenth-century or early in the following century. As Brett Dolman has written: 'All of these paintings... give the impression of mechanistically copied and simplified 'head and shoulders' portraits'. It is possible, as has been suggested, that by the time of Elizabeth's triumph 'a pool of portraits of unidentified women dating from the reign of Henry VIII still existed. As was common, these original paintings were not labelled and... the identities of the sitters were generally problematic. Yet for copyists in need of an image, clues within and without seem to have encouraged them to arrive at speculative identifications. The face pattern for Jane Grey was Kateryn Parr and the face pattern chosen for Anne Boleyn was Mary Rose Tudor' (Susan E. James). While controversial, James' argument does have some merit: it is extremely difficult to arrive at firm identifications of sitters in Tudor portraiture, as continuing controversy over the portraiture of Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey, for example, demonstrates.

Whether or not James' claim can be agreed with, it is important to be cautious in analysing Tudor portraiture and searching it for clues as to a sitter's 'true' appearance or identity. The most famous portraits of Anne Boleyn were produced only fifty years, or more, after her death, and the facial features were probably based on those of another woman, perhaps even those of Elizabeth herself. It is impossible to view the NPG portrait, for example, as evidence for what Anne really looked like. In relation to this article, although Anne is identified as wearing the French hood in most of these portraits, this does not necessarily mean that she favoured the garment over its English gable counterpart: rather, it reflects the artist's understanding of fashionable dress at Henry VIII's court and what he (or she) might have expected Anne, as a queen during the 1530s, to have worn.

Above: The Nidd Hall portrait of Anne (left).
The only undisputed surviving representation of Anne from her own lifetime, the 1534 medal (right).

Other visual representations of Anne depict her wearing the gable hood, which was the preferred item of headwear for the majority of women at the English court during her life. The only undisputed contemporary portrait of Anne is a lead prototype medal now housed in the British Museum. It dates from c.1534, the year in which Anne was thought to be pregnant with her second child. In it, the queen is clearly shown wearing a gable hood. Other later portraits followed the 1534 style and portrayed Anne wearing a gable hood, as shown in the Nidd Hall portrait, in which the queen wears a gable hood and brooch in the form of a single drop pearl hanging from the monogram 'AB'. Recent research from earlier this year has indicated that the Nidd Hall portrait matches the 1534 medal.

Certainly, the queen was described as wearing a gable hood during her own lifetime; it was the headdress she chose to wear on the scaffold on 19 May 1536. Historians have suggested that she elected to wear the gable hood that day in order to proclaim her English background, or to assert her place as a queen of England. More possibly, but less commonly argued, it was simply because the gable hood, rather than the French hood, was Anne's preferred choice of headdress. We cannot known for certainty. This article has demonstrated that Anne certainly wore the French hood and spent a good deal of money on the item, but it has also indicated that she was known to wear the gable hood and possibly favoured it, as seen in her decision to wear it on the last day of her life. This article has also sought to inject a note of caution in examining Anne's reputed portraiture for evidence of her fashion interests. It is apparent that the French hood was not introduced to England by Anne Boleyn, but it is possible that she popularised it. By the 1540s, it was a highly fashionable garment and was worn as a marker of high status. Henry VIII's last two wives, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr, both favoured the French hood, and it was worn by the young Elizabeth and by her older sister Mary, later Mary I. 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Queen Elizabeth of York and the Tower of London



Several Tudor queens are associated with the Tower of London. Elizabeth of York, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn all resided there the night before their coronations at Westminster Abbey, as did the Tudor queens regnant Mary I and Elizabeth I. More ominously, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard met their deaths at the Tower of London; both wives were executed on charges of treason within the walls of the Tower. A third queen (although her royal title has, and continues to be disputed), Lady Jane Grey, was also beheaded within the Tower. However, one Tudor queen's death at the Tower of London has tended to be forgotten in modern times. We remember the grim demises of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Jane Grey at the Tower, but we often forget that Queen Elizabeth was the first Tudor queen to die at the royal fortress. She, however, was not executed, but died following complications in childbirth. 

Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville. She was born on 11 February 1466 at the Palace of Westminster, and became queen of England following her marriage to the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Elizabeth's life was tumultuous. She had been born a princess of England and grew up in expectation of a glorious future; she perhaps believed that it was her destiny to marry a European prince. When her brother Edward was born in 1470, the infant Elizabeth would have acknowledged that it would be unlikely that she would rule England, unlikely even in the capacity of queen consort. However, everything changed for Elizabeth in the year 1483, when she was seventeen. Following Edward IV's unexpected death, Prince Edward was proclaimed Edward V, but his uncle Richard of Gloucester seized him and his younger brother Richard of York, and had them incarcerated in the Tower of London. Rumours of both princes' disappearances began to circulate, and by the autumn of that year it was believed that they were dead. What truly happened to Edward and Richard can never be known with certainty, and it is a mystery as to whether or not Elizabeth ever learned of their fate. Both during and after her lifetime, it was rumoured that she had schemed to marry her uncle Richard of Gloucester, now Richard III, but he denied ever considering marrying her. Shortly before her twentieth birthday, Elizabeth became queen of England as the wife of Henry VII, and she gave birth to four surviving children: Arthur (born in 1486); Margaret (born in 1489); Henry, the future Henry VIII (born in 1491); and Mary (born in 1496). She gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, in February 1503, but the child was sickly and did not long survive. The queen died nine days later, on her thirty-seventh birthday.

Above: A contemporary drawing of the Tower of London. 

The Tower of London occupied a central presence in the life of Elizabeth of York. For her, it was associated with triumph (she was crowned there in November 1487); tragedy (she died there in 1503); childbirth; mystery and a lack of fulfillment (her brothers had allegedly disappeared after being imprisoned there). Perhaps Elizabeth's most abiding memory of the Tower, during her lifetime, was the day of her coronation in the winter of 1487. At the age of twenty-one, the attractive, fair-haired daughter of York fulfilled her glorious destiny: she became queen of England as the wife of the first Tudor king. Not only did she follow in her mother's footsteps, the footsteps of another Queen Elizabeth, but she had fulfilled her father's ambition that the Yorkist dynasty should reign triumphant. Elizabeth, of course, was not a queen regnant, and her husband was especially keen to demonstrate that his accession had united the houses of York and Tudor, rather than representing a Yorkist triumph. 

However, everyone - including, first and foremost, Elizabeth - knew that without his wife's impeccable credentials and her Yorkist symbolism, Henry VII would not have enjoyed a triumphant accession to the throne of England. Elizabeth was vitally important in strengthening her husband's claim, and in crowning her as queen, Henry showed his recognition of his wife's dynastic importance. On that chilly day in November, the young Elizabeth sat in triumph, fiercely proud of her lineage and determined to honour her dynasty to the best of her ability. In all likelihood, for her, the Tower was a glorious setting for the occasion. It was a palace, as well as a fortress, and while its association with the disappearance of her younger brothers two years earlier represented it as dark and forbidding, for Elizabeth its positive features were probably more on show that day. 

Whether the queen ever learned of her brothers' fate is uncertain, but if she did not, then the Tower of London surely symbolised mystery, perhaps premature death, perhaps premature ending of hope, a lack of fulfillment. During her youth and teenage years, she was educated to view her younger brother as the next king of England upon her father's death. Richard III's triumph had snuffed out the possibility of that happening, and Elizabeth was suddenly elevated to a new position as a result of her uncle's ambitions. 


The Tower of London was, finally, for Elizabeth, a scene of tragedy, a setting of death. On 11 February 1503, the queen died on her thirty-seventh birthday, days after giving birth to a daughter. The Tower was associated with triumph and glory when monarchs were crowned there, but it could also be represented as dark, gloomy and associated with death. Elizabeth's death occurred at a time of coldness, darkness, and icy winter. She was the first Tudor queen to die at the fortress, but she would not be the last. However, while Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Jane Grey lost their lives at the Tower at the hands of the executioner as traitors to the Crown, Queen Elizabeth was posthumously represented as a virtuous, learned and pious woman who had died performing a good service, an act that was symbolically identified as the holy, divinely ordained duty of queens: childbirth. Today, the ghosts of Anne and Jane, in particular, are believed to haunt the Tower in sorrow, unhappiness and desolation. Whether the ghost of Elizabeth of York is ever glimpsed at the Tower is a question that is almost never considered, but given her positive reputation, her dynastic achievements and her love and loyalty to her family, it perhaps seems unlikely. 

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Forgotten Countess: Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick


Above: Anne Beauchamp alongside her husband Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, in the television series The White Queen.


In fifteenth-century England, titled women, that is duchesses and countesses, enjoyed positions of great social and political importance. They were second only to queens in the power they held and influence they wielded. At that time, a duchess or countess was responsible for advising her husband; supervising her estates and assisting her adherents in a variety of matters; attending court in the queen's household; and, most importantly, bearing children (preferably sons). Even today, duchesses and countesses of fifteenth-century England remain well-known. Women such as Jacquetta, duchess of Bedford, and Cecily, duchess of York, were influential, intelligent and strong-willed. They influenced their offspring and assisted them in their schemes to take the throne. Jacquetta masterminded her daughter Elizabeth Wydeville's obscure marriage to Edward IV, while Cecily had played an important role in educating Edward and, perhaps, grooming him for kingship. Similarly, the political involvement of Margaret Beaufort, countess of Richmond and Derby, was significant. Her influence both at court and in local society ensured the continuing relevance of her son Henry Tudor's claim to the throne, and the countess emerged triumphant in the summer of 1485 with Henry's accession. 

However, one countess remains largely unknown, and yet her story was every bit as tragic, as unpredictable, and as fascinating as the stories of the women above named. Anne Beauchamp, countess of Warwick, was the wife of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, who remains known today as the 'Kingmaker'. She was the mother of Isabel and Anne, and her younger daughter would become queen of England in 1483 as the wife of Richard III. In the television series The White Queen, the countess is not one of the main characters, but she is portrayed as a shrewd, intelligent woman who played an advisory role to her husband. She was depicted as being extremely close to her two daughters. Whether the real countess enjoyed good relations with her offspring is unknown.

Above: Anne Neville, the younger daughter of the Countess of Warwick.

Anne Beauchamp was the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, thirteenth earl of Warwick, and Isabel le Despenser, who was the sole heiress of her deceased father Thomas. She was born in July 1426 at Caversham Castle in Oxfordshire. In 1434, when Anne was only eight years old, she was betrothed to Richard Neville. She married Richard at an unknown date and gave birth to two daughters by him: Isabel (born in September 1451) and Anne (born in June 1456). Both girls were born at the family seat at Warwick Castle. Whether the couple were severely disappointed by their failure to have a son is unknown, but it is entirely possible given that Richard may have wanted the estates and title to remain within the family. The son of the earl of Salisbury, Richard acquired significant wealth and status by marrying Anne Beauchamp and inheriting the Warwick estates and title. Upon her marriage to Richard, Anne became countess of Warwick. 

The Neville family was one of the old noble families in England. They were proud of their lineage and were highly ambitious. Warwick's ambition was renowned and he played a major role in securing the accession of his cousin Edward, earl of March, in 1461. However, Warwick experienced conflict with the new king when Edward elected to marry the relatively unknown Elizabeth Wydeville. The new king's mother, Cecily, duchess of York, disliked her daughter-in-law and voiced outrage at her son's folly. Warwick similarly disliked the new queen and harboured a great deal of resentment, eventually leading him to rebel against Edward. Whether Anne Beauchamp resented Queen Elizabeth, or whether she enjoyed good relations with her, is a mystery. Certainly she would have enjoyed a favoured position at court. 

The sources are frustratingly silent about the countess. We know next to nothing about her. Did she welcome the favour shown to her family and did she feel pride at her husband's influence at the king's side? She surely harboured concern about the twists and turns of fortune. In 1470, the disaffected Warwick masterminded the restoration of the Lancastrian king Henry VI and his resourceful wife Margaret of Anjou, a woman who loathed Warwick. We cannot know whether the countess was on intimate terms with Queen Margaret, but she surely could not have envisaged that the queen would become her sister-in-law that same year. But that is exactly what happened. Anne's younger daughter, also named Anne, married Edward of Westminster at the age of fourteen and, in the process, became Princess of Wales. She was destined to be England's queen - but, unknown at the time, it would not be at the side of Edward, who was killed in battle at Tewkesbury the following year, leaving the young Anne a widow.

Above: Margaret of Anjou, briefly Anne Beauchamp's sister-in-law.

1471 was perhaps Anne Beauchamp's annus horribilis. Not only had she lost her son-in-law, but her husband Warwick was killed at the battle of Barnet that spring. With his death, the countess lost everything. Her husband was, in the eyes of the restored Edward IV's government, a traitor. The countess herself was, by association, a pariah and she was forced to keep a low profile for a time. Her position, however, was uncomfortably ambiguous. Her elder daughter Isabel had married Edward's younger brother George, duke of Clarence, in 1469. This ensured the countess' continuing closeness to the ruling house of York. Isabel died in 1476, however, and Clarence was executed for treason two years later.

These were years of sorrow and loss for the countess. In a brief period, she had lost her husband, her daughter, and both her sons-in-law. She had been respected, perhaps even loved, during Warwick's ascendancy, and she had enjoyed an influential position at court. Briefly she had been Margaret of Anjou's sister-in-law, and had Margaret triumphantly regained her position as queen with the final collapse of the house of York, then Anne's position would surely have been unrivalled as the mother-in-law of the heir to the throne. Instead, she was isolated and alone. She only had her younger daughter Anne for company, and as events were to prove, that was not necessarily a positive thing. 

Above: Isabel Neville, duchess of Clarence, firstborn daughter of Anne Beauchamp.

The marriages of her two daughters caused the countess considerable stress. Her younger daughter Anne had married the king's youngest brother Richard, duke of Gloucester. In Clarence's lifetime, he had fought bitterly with Richard over the Neville inheritance. The countess resided in the household of her daughter, the duchess of Gloucester, but there may have been considerable ill-feeling between mother and daughter. Between them, the sons-in-law of the countess had effectively disinherited her. 

The countess did not meekly submit to the schemes of her sons-in-law. She responded furiously and expressed both outrage and disbelief. She perhaps viewed herself as betrayed by her own daughter. While in sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey, the countess had written several letters seeking both her release and her control of her own wealth, swearing that she had 'neuer offended his most redoghted highnes' [Edward IV]. She was determined to exercise control over her own future and she would do whatever it took to do so. The countess sought the assistance of the queen, the king's mother, the queen's mother, and even the assistance of the king's eldest daughter Elizabeth. 

It was to no avail. The countess was legally treated as if she were dead. Her lands were divided between her two daughters and their avaricious husbands. She did, however, acquire an income from her son-in-law Richard III when he became king. It is worth noting that Henry VII was more generous in his treatment of the countess, providing her with 500 marks a year while granting her life estates in over two dozen manors and lordships. Henry also made her principal keeper of the forest of Wychwode. 

Anne died in 1492 aged sixty-six. Hers had been a long, tumultuous and, in many respects, tragic life. She had lost her husband in battle, her eldest daughter had died while still young, and she may have experienced conflict with her youngest daughter. Her lands and estates were seized from her by George of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester. She had been respected as the wife of the Kingmaker, but she had also been an outcast, perhaps even a pariah. She was briefly the mother of the Queen of England, but unlike Jacquetta Wydeville, Cecily Neville or Margaret Beaufort, she did not enjoy a position of power and influence as the mother of the ruler. We know very little about the countess and evidence is scarce. Whether the countess was scheming and ambitious, or whether she was more sympathetic, cannot be known. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Stereotyped Six Wives: Six: 'Never A Wife More Agreeable to His Heart'


Katherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII of England
Lifetime: 1512 - 5 September 1548
Reigned: July 1543 - January 1547 (3 years, 6 months)
Pregnancies: 0

In this new six-part series, I will be reexamining the lives and personalities of Henry VIII's six wives, seeking to portray their lives realistically in a process that discards prevailing stereotypes. Much scholarly work has been done on Henry's reign in recent decades, affording fresh insights into the politics and achievements of the period. Understandably, widespread interest in Henry's marital affairs remains unabated. Yet stereotypes continue to bedevil our knowledge of the wives of this most enigmatic king. 

Katherine Parr was Henry VIII's sixth wife and in many respects she differed from his other consorts. She had been twice married when Henry's eye fell on her and, at thirty-one, she was somewhat older than her successors. The ageing king had wed Katherine Howard because her youth seemed to promise fertility. In marrying Katherine Parr, Henry perhaps acknowledged that he might not have any more legitimate children. The new queen was a charming, educated and well-liked woman who was known for her evangelical sympathies. Katherine can be termed the first truly Protestant queen of England and she was a noted patron of reformist scholars. She was also deeply interested in the Renaissance and spent considerable sums of money on clothing, works of art and jewellery. Like her predecessor Anne Boleyn, Katherine also enjoyed music, dancing and the finer things in life. In this respect she was an ideal consort. Yet her intelligence and devotion to reform threatened to be her own undoing. Towards the end of his life, rumours circulated that the king was rapidly tiring of his opinionated wife and was considering removing her. Fortunately, Katherine emerged unscathed but she was fortunate to escape potential arrest and even execution for heresy. 

While Katherine's importance as queen was underestimated or even dismissed by nineteenth-century historians, modern scholars are keenly aware of her political, religious and cultural significance. The traditional and erroneous stereotype of her as merely her husband's nurse has been superseded by studies that demonstrate her importance to the advancement of Protestantism in England alongside her status as a Renaissance patron. She was a loving stepmother to Henry's children and was especially close to Elizabeth. Having at one time been perhaps the most misrepresented of Henry's wives, it is perhaps Katherine Parr, of all his queens, whose true character has most clearly emerged in light of advances in historical scholarship.


Above: Snape Castle in Yorkshire, where Katherine Parr and her stepchildren were held hostage during her time as the wife of John Neville.

Katherine Parr was the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas and Maud Parr, and was most probably born in around August 1512 at Blackfriars in London. Her brother William was born in 1513 and her sister Anne followed in about 1515. As with Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, Katherine's father was a close favourite of Henry VIII, while Lady Maud served as Katherine of Aragon's lady-in-waiting. Most probably the queen stood as Katherine Parr's godmother, for whom she was named. When she was five years old, Katherine's father died. Her mother, an ambitious and resourceful lady, successfully managed the family's estates, supervised her children's education, and arranged marriages for her two eldest children. In the words of Susan E. James, Maud 'set an example of female independence that was to have a lifelong effect on her elder daughter'. 

Like Anne Boleyn, Katherine was well-educated and grew to be an articulate, assertive and remarkable young woman. She was not beautiful, but she was attractive. The Spanish ambassador recorded that she was 'of small stature, graceful, and of cheerful countenance'. The Duke of Najera's secretary Pedro de Gant similarly reported that she had a 'cheerful countenance' and was 'praised for her virtue'. Katherine's skeleton, unearthed in the nineteenth-century, showed her to have stood at 5'2 inches tall, making her about the same height as Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour and probably slightly taller than both Katherine of Aragon and Katherine Howard, who was said to be 'diminutive' in stature. She had auburn hair, grey eyes and graceful, finely shaped hands. As the above testimony indicates, she had a gracious and merry temperament. She was also passionate, intense and outspoken.

Katherine had an aptitude for languages, acquiring a knowledge of French, Latin, and Italian, and as queen she sought to learn Spanish. In the summer of 1529, at the age of seventeen, Katherine married Edward Borough, who was perhaps four years her senior. Historians have conjectured that Katherine might not have been happy during her first marriage, for her father-in-law was overbearing and bullying. The young couple resided at Kirton in Lindsey, Lincolnshire, but their marriage proved to be a short one. Katherine's first husband died, only in his mid-twenties, in the spring of 1533. A year later, Katherine remarried. Her second husband was John Neville, Baron Latimer. This was an excellent marriage for Katherine and the ambitious Parrs, for it made her a baroness. 

In puzzling over the origins of Katherine Parr's proclivity for the reformed faith, historians have wondered whether it began during her marriage to Latimer, for her husband was conservative in matters of religion. Dwelling at Snape Castle in Yorkshire, the new Lady Latimer received a fright when her husband was seized by an angry mob during the Pilgrimage of Grace in the autumn of 1536. Her husband was in a perilous position, in trying to please both the rebels and the suspicious king. In early 1537, believing that Latimer was about to betray them to the king, the rebels stormed Snape and seized Katherine and her stepchildren as hostages. Fortunately for them, Latimer managed to secure their release, and a few months later Lord and Lady Latimer departed for the south.



Whether Katherine was happy during her second marriage is unknown. If she had begun to harbour sympathies for the reformed religion around the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace, she might well have experienced tensions with her conservative husband. As in her first marriage, Katherine remained childless. In the spring of 1543, her fortunes changed drastically. Latimer died and, while serving at court in the household of Mary Tudor, Katherine attracted the ageing king. Like Anne Boleyn, Katherine reacted negatively when she learned that Henry wished to marry her. She seems to have harboured feelings for Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane, and perhaps wished to marry him when her period of mourning for Latimer was at an end. Katherine, highly reluctant, eventually overcame her scruples upon concluding that it was God's will that she become queen. As she later wrote to Thomas: 'Howbeit, God withstood my will therein most vehemently... [and] made me to renounce utterly mine own will, and to follow his most willingly'. On 12 July 1543, Katherine married Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace in a quiet ceremony.

Although Katherine Parr was fulsomely praised in her own lifetime and has been lauded by modern historians for her success as queen, she may initially have struggled for, like her predecessor Katherine Howard, she lacked experience at court. As Susan E. James writes, she was 'the only one of Henry's queens without either royal background or court service to train her for her new position'. Fortunately, Katherine quickly established excellent relations with her three stepchildren. She was already close to Mary on account of her brief time in Mary's household, and the new queen became closely involved in the education of both Elizabeth and Edward. The prince regularly wrote to Katherine informing her about the progress of his studies, while Elizabeth also frequently penned missives to her stepmother. Katherine's importance cannot be underestimated, for she was partly responsible for Henry's decision to include both Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession.

Katherine Parr, like Katherine of Aragon, was an energetic, resourceful and active queen, and like Henry's first wife she was selected by the king to serve as regent in 1544 when he departed on a military expedition to France. Katherine's assertiveness may have caused resentment among the conservatives at court. She signed five royal proclamations as regent and was praised by her husband for her success in the role of regent. Henry appreciated Katherine's capability and aptitude for governance, but these same qualities later caused him irritation. It is interesting that Henry, after marrying the submissive Jane Seymour and Katherine Howard, once again selected an assertive and outspoken woman to be his final wife. Like Katherine of Aragon, Katherine Parr was, at least initially, not at all hesitant about speaking her mind in matters of religion and, perhaps, politics.


Above: "The Lamentation of a Sinner", published by Katherine in 1547 after Henry's death.

As stated in the introductory paragraph, of all Henry's wives, Katherine Parr's life has perhaps been described most realistically in modern times. However, one pervasive myth that concerns her is that she was something of an early feminist. Katherine's mother had been an independent, assertive and intelligent woman and, with her example in mind, it is unsurprising that Katherine grew up to value these qualities. Unlike Jane Seymour, who had submitted to Henry's control irrespective of her true feelings, or Katherine Howard, whose motto as queen was similarly grounded in her deference to Henry, Katherine Parr was outspoken, highly learned and opinionated, perhaps at times overbearing. These qualities were to place her in a position of danger. However, despite the example of her mother, Katherine was in no way a feminist transported back in time to Tudor England. 

She was the first English queen to publish her own work. As she perceived it, her most important duty was to advance the reformed religion. It had been God's will that she marry Henry, and she believed that it was God's will that she bring about the triumph of the 'godly' faith. In her analysis of Katherine's The Lamentation of a Sinner, Susan E. James argues that Katherine associated Christ with qualities that were usually linked to women: 'Christ was innocent, obedient unto his father... meek and humble in the heart... [who] came to serve... [and] despised worldly honour'. By contrast, the writer described herself as having qualities that were usually associated with men; she was 'disobedient and most stubborn... most proud and vainglorious... I coveted to rule over [my brethren]'. The Lamentation contained an inversion of contemporary gender roles, which underscored Katherine's 'interpretation of her own self-image as one who was set apart by virtue of position and understanding from her sex in general and from those restrictions commonly imposed on that sex in particular' [Susan E. James].

Katherine's assertive queenship, in which she undermined and challenged the conventional understanding of women as passive, frail and corrupt beings, had a profound influence on her younger stepdaughter Elizabeth. Perhaps Elizabeth's own triumphant style of rule was deeply affected by her experience of Katherine's queenship. However, as Susan E. James notes, it is going too far to read an early form of feminism into Katherine's beliefs. She was not denying the contemporary notion of female inferiority. In the same work, the writer instructed women to be silent and obey their husbands in all things. Women should be, according to Katherine, sober, dutiful, and submissive. Their primary role was as mother and wife. 

Even if Katherine was by no means an early feminist, her contemporaries viewed her as remarkable. John Foxe later described her as 'but a woman accompanied with all the imperfections natural to the weakness of her sex', but commented that she was 'very zealous towards the Gospel'. She was more assertive than Anne Boleyn, but she soon realised the dangers of appearing to question Henry's authority. Where Katherine of Aragon had occasionally dared to reprimand her husband, Katherine Parr was forced to deny her beliefs and submit herself entirely to her husband in order to survive. 


Above: Sudeley Castle, where Katherine died in 1548.

Katherine's sympathies for the reformed religion, according to John Foxe, put her in a position of great danger. The conservatives, perhaps still harbouring resentment about the downfall and disgrace of Katherine Howard, harboured a secret desire to oust Katherine Parr from power. In the spring of 1546 Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, began plotting to destroy her and rumours of the queen's imminent disgrace began to circulate at court. In a moment of irritation, the king agreed to his wife's arrest. Fortunately for her, Katherine discovered the news of her impending arrest and, in a speech in which she submitted herself entirely to Henry's wisdom, secured her husband's forgiveness. It is possible that Katherine's speech of submission inspired that of Katherina in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Katherine never again risked her husband's wrath and was more subdued in the final months of Henry's life.

Katherine Parr had been queen of England for three and a half years when her mercurial husband died on 28 January 1547 at Whitehall Palace in London. A few months later she remarried. Her fourth husband was the handsome Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane. Unfortunately, Katherine was not to experience lasting happiness in her new marriage. Her husband was reckless and irresponsible, and his scandalous relationship with Elizabeth Tudor caused Katherine dismay and despair. Elizabeth, who had resided in her stepmother's household, was banished. Katherine gave birth to her only child, Mary, on 30 August 1548. The child probably died before her second birthday. Katherine passed away less than a week later at the age of thirty-six. She was deeply mourned by her friends and family and was buried in Sudeley Chapel. Eleven-year-old Lady Jane Grey acted as chief mourner. 

In recent years, there have been several excellent studies of Katherine. They have established that she was an extremely important queen of England who was a key player in both the Reformation and the Renaissance in England. She was involved in the founding of Trinity College, Cambridge, and she was deeply interested in educational reform. She was also a patron of the arts, in particular music, painting, and drama. Katherine's model of queenship may have greatly influenced her stepdaughter Elizabeth's style of rule. She and Katherine of Aragon, her namesake, were probably the two most assertive and active of Henry's queens. Both were selected by the king to act as Regent of the country while he was abroad, and both shared similar personalities: they were assertive; energetic; passionate; articulate; and opinionated. Both were highly popular and were admired not only by their subjects but by foreign visitors and ambassadors at court. 

These studies have largely contributed to the dismantling of myths surrounding Katherine Parr, primarily the erroneous tale of her acting as her husband's nurse. Of all the wives, it is perhaps Katherine's personality which emerges most clearly. Admired in her own day, respected today, she is now perhaps the least stereotyped of Henry's queens. 









Monday, 26 October 2015

The Stereotyped Six Wives: Five: 'Flourishing in Youth'


Katherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII of England
Lifetime: c. 1523 - 13 February 1542
Reigned: July 1540 - November 1541 (1 year, 4 months)
Pregnancies: 0

In this new six-part series, I will be reexamining the lives and personalities of Henry VIII's six wives, seeking to portray their lives realistically in a process that discards prevailing stereotypes. Much scholarly work has been done on Henry's reign in recent decades, affording fresh insights into the politics and achievements of the period. Understandably, widespread interest in Henry's marital affairs remains unabated. Yet stereotypes continue to bedevil our knowledge of the wives of this most enigmatic king. 

The pretty teenager Katherine Howard had been at court for only seven months when she became queen of England upon her marriage to Henry VIII on 28 July 1540 at Oatlands Palace. The niece of Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, Katherine had served as maid of honour to Queen Anne of Cleves. Henry was entranced by his wife's attractive attendant and began publicly favouring her in April. Katherine's downfall was as swift as her ascent. In November 1541, her unsavoury past was discovered by her husband and his Privy Council, who had been informed by the reformer John Lascelles, brother of Katherine's childhood acquaintance Mary Lascelles. The council also learned that the queen had met in secret several times with her husband's gentleman of the privy chamber Thomas Culpeper. Both Katherine and Culpeper insistently denied that they had engaged in sexual intercourse, but their pleas of innocence went unheard. Culpeper was executed alongside Katherine's former lover Francis Dereham, who had boasted that he would be sure to marry Katherine once Henry had died. The queen, accompanied by her lady-in-waiting Jane Rochford, followed them to the scaffold in February 1542. Katherine was reviled as an adulteress in her own time and has been systematically 'slut shamed' in modern times. However, the brief evidence of her queenship indicates that she was a noted intercessor, a patron and loyally provided for her family and friends. The traditional depiction of her as an older, knowing woman who quarrelled with her stepdaughter Mary Tudor, a woman who was 'airheaded' or 'dim', is one that is not fully supported by the extant sources. In continuing to 'slut shame' Katherine, modern historians merely perpetuate the prevailing misogyny of the period in which Katherine lived.


Above: Oatlands Palace, where Katherine Howard married Henry VIII.

Katherine Howard's origins are mostly unknown; we do not know her birth date, where she was born, or her exact number of siblings. Her contemporaries, however, were agreed that she was very young when she married Henry VIII. In his Metrical Visions, Wolsey's former gentleman usher George Cavendish referred to Katherine's youth no less than ten times; for example, he described her as 'floryshyng in youthe with beawtie freshe and pure'. The French ambassador Charles Marillac believed that Katherine was sexually involved with Dereham from the ages of thirteen to eighteen. However, he was not perceptive about women's ages: he had earlier affirmed that Anne of Cleves was thirty, rather than twenty-four, perhaps because he disliked her German clothing and manners. It is possible that Marillac was unaware of Katherine's relations with Henry Manox, but he would have known of Dereham given Dereham's position at court in Katherine's household. On the basis of hearsay that Katherine had been sexually active in 1536, and knowing that rumours had accused her of granting sexual favours to Dereham as queen, Marillac might have assumed that she was thirteen in 1536 and eighteen in 1541. 

Other observers agreed that Katherine was younger than Henry's previous wives. Richard Hilles, in his letter to Henry Bullinger written in 1541, reported that the king had married 'a young girl'. Katherine herself blamed her youth for her mistakes, which indicates that she was still in her teenage years. Warnicke has advanced the suggestion that modern historians are usually reluctant in believing Katherine may have been younger than eighteen because it depicts Henry VIII in a negative light. However, following Jane Seymour's death he had been interested in marrying the sixteen-year-old Christina of Milan, and his mistress Bessie Blount had been perhaps only fourteen years old when Henry was first attracted to her. The abundance of references to Katherine's youth indicate that she was probably born around 1523 and was about seventeen when she became Henry's wife in 1540.

Henry was probably captivated by Katherine's beauty and charm, but he was perhaps also entranced by her youth. It signalled fertility and offered the promise of a second son to secure the Tudor succession. When Katherine married Henry, his only surviving son Edward was only two years old and, given that Henry's own elder brother had died as a teenager, the king must have been deeply concerned about the future of his dynasty. Katherine's family was highly fertile: she herself was one of about six children, and her father had ten siblings. Moreover, whereas Anne of Cleves' physical appearance had indicated to Henry that she was not a virgin, Katherine's slim figure confirmed that she was a virgin. Possibly because she was less than five feet in height - reportedly being 'diminutive' in stature - and he was a tall man of over six feet inches, on his wedding night Henry seems to have failed to discern that his new wife was not a virgin as he had believed.



Modern historians have usually asserted that the new queen experienced conflict with her stepdaughter Mary Tudor. The Spanish ambassador reported that Katherine, offended because her stepdaughter had failed to treat her with the same respect shown to Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, had ordered two of Mary's maids to be removed from her household. However, Chapuys reported in January that Mary had not visited the queen yet. He did report that the New Year gift sent by Mary had greatly pleased the queen. In May, Katherine approved the king's decision to grant his daughter permission to reside at court. Katherine also cooperated with Mary in arranging the royal couple's visit to Prince Edward. When viewed in full, the surviving evidence hardly suggests that Katherine and Mary disliked one another and it does not indicate that Mary resented her stepmother's supposed greed or frivolousness. It suggests that their initial relations were rocky, but seems to indicate that they later experienced cooperative relations with one another.

Katherine sought to be a kind and generous mistress. She granted both her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth, gifts of jewellery, and she also provided her niece-by-marriage Lady Margaret Douglas with jewels. The queen ensured that members of her family served in her household: her half-sister, for example, was the wife of Katherine's vice-chamberlain. One or two scholars have opined that Katherine was disliked by her husband's courtiers and failed to inspire loyalty; but given her youth, inexperience and newness at court, this is hardly surprising. Moreover, there is no conclusive evidence that she was unpopular or widely disliked. Chapuys was sympathetic in his reports of her, and like Jane Seymour her queenship was grounded in submission to her husband's authority, as her motto 'No Other Will But His' confirmed.

She was usually successful in the performance of her royal duties. In November 1540, she wrote to the archbishop of York requesting that he provide her chaplain with an advowson of the York archdeaconery, although she was unsuccessful. On several occasions Katherine successfully interceded; in late March she requested pardons for Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir John Wallop, and in October she successfully beseeched her husband to pardon Helen Page. Katherine may also have been involved in the sending of clothing to the condemned Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, who was imprisoned in the Tower. Katherine was a loyal presence at Henry's side. In March, the king and queen travelled to Greenwich by barge and were granted by the saluting of the Tower cannons and the firing of ships' guns along the Thames, in the eyes of the chronicler Charles Wriothesley 'a goodly sight'.


Above: The Tower of London, where Katherine was imprisoned and executed.

Unknown to her husband, Katherine had a murky past. As a young girl she had resided in the household of her step-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. In 1536, the Dowager Duchess arranged for a musician, Henry Manox, to provide the thirteen-year-old Katherine with music lessons. When Katherine's interrogators learned of her relations with Manox, they assumed that she was responsible for his seduction of her. Sixteenth-century observers viewed young women as sexually insatiable, believing that they were 'desirous to be married... to the end that they may be fruitful'. They were believed to provoke rape and were viewed as experiencing pleasure in it. If a woman was involved in sexual relations against her will, and subsequently fell pregnant, it was held that she could not have been raped. 

Katherine's music master was in a position of authority over her. He entreated Katherine to secretly meet with him, where he fondled her and, although she showed reluctance, he reported that she was 'content' for him to do so. As Laura Gowing has noted, Manox's confession 'shows no signs of the sense of guilty self-implication' that appears regularly in women's testimony. When the dowager duchess discovered Katherine's relationship with Manox, she beat her step-granddaughter several times and warned them never to meet together again. Two years later, in 1538, Katherine was acquainted with Francis Dereham, who was perhaps a gentleman usher to the dowager duchess. 

Whether Katherine was in love with Dereham is a question that has not often been debated. Most historians have assumed that theirs was a love affair, but as Warnicke notes, none of Katherine's later testimony suggests that she enjoyed Dereham's pursuit of her. The interrogators failed to ask her whether she had consented to Dereham's sexual advances. Katherine answered this, however, by confirming that Dereham's actions constituted 'importune forcement, and in a manner, violence, rather than of her own free consent and will'. Rather than proclaiming her knowledge of contraception, Katherine's comment 'a woman might meddle with a man and yet conceive no child unless she would for herself' can be viewed as 'a coded statement about her feelings for Dereham rather than a reference to birth control' (Warnicke). Contemporaries believed that females should enjoy sexual intercourse in order to successfully conceive. If Katherine had no wish to have sexual intercourse with Dereham, then she would have believed that she was forced to please him and would therefore not have enjoyed the experience. This explains her later denial that she was ever Dereham's wife. The church required that the marriage vows were freely given, rather than coerced.



Dereham's arrival at court in the spring of 1541 complicated matters for Katherine. Aware of the potential danger of his presence, she admonished him to keep silent about their former relationship and placated him with gifts of money in a misguided attempt to buy his silence. Perhaps fearful about the possibility that the king would discover that she was not a virgin, the queen agreed to meet with Thomas Culpeper, her distant kinsman, that spring. Culpeper was an experienced courtier and had an unfavourable reputation as a murderer and a rapist. Whether he deserved this reputation is uncertain, but certainly he was well aware of the treacherous nature of court intrigue. Simply by meeting with Culpeper in private, regardless of her intentions, Katherine placed herself in a position of great danger. Contemporaries warned that wives should not meet with men who were not their husbands. By meeting with Culpeper in secret, Katherine invited suspicion and her motives were to be interpreted in the worst possible light.

Possibly Culpeper had initially approached Lady Rochford, Katherine's attendant, because he was aware that she was closest to the queen on account of her position as Lady of the Bedchamber. Margaret Morton, who served Katherine, later reported that Lady Rochford was to bear the blame for Katherine's actions. The queen provided Culpeper with a velvet cap at their first meeting, perhaps as a reward for his promise to keep her childhood secret. Certainly, the timing of his meeting with Katherine was suspicious. In the spring of 1541, when they first met, Dereham arrived at court and openly bragged of his former sexual relationship with the queen, even claiming that, were the king to die, he would be sure to marry Katherine. At around the same time, Henry fell seriously ill and closed his doors to Katherine for several days, later inviting rumours that he had been displeased with her and had been considering annulling their marriage. It is often not appreciated how perilous Katherine's position was in the spring of 1541. As rumours emerged about her past, in the midst of her husband's incapacity, Katherine sought to silence those who knew the truth of her childhood.

The court departed on the northern progress in June and Katherine met with Culpeper on several occasions. At some point the queen wrote a letter to Culpeper, perhaps with the assistance of Lady Rochford given that the style of handwriting changes several words in. Interestingly, the letter was never mentioned in the indictments or by resident ambassadors at court, thus endowing it with mystery. Katherine's intentions cannot easily be read from the letter alone. The elaborate style and flowery sentences have usually been viewed as evidence of the queen's love for Culpeper, but the phrases were in keeping with those used in the period. Warnicke has suggested that the closing phrase, 'yours as long as life endures', provides evidence that danger and death, rather than love and romance, were on Katherine's mind at the time. She was surely well aware of Anne Boleyn's execution and knew that her actions could be interpreted in the same light. Unsurprisingly, she eventually informed Lady Rochford to instruct Culpeper not to meet with her again. 

Certainly Culpeper reported later how nervous she had been in their meetings. She had instructed Lady Rochford to remain closely nearby as a chaperone, perhaps assuming that the older woman's presence would add an air of respectability to her meetings with Culpeper. Much of the queen's ladies' later evidence was speculative. Margaret Morton believed that Katherine had looked out of a window with an expression of lust directed towards Culpeper, but one wonders why the queen's attendants did not inform the king or his council of their suspicions at the time. More likely, having heard in the wake of Katherine's downfall that she had not been a virgin when she became queen, they viewed her meetings with Culpeper in this light. Viewing her as a loose, promiscuous woman, they believed that her nighttime meetings must surely have been sexually motivated rather than anything else. Yet the evidence is mostly ambiguous. 

When the council discovered Katherine's past and interrogated her, she reacted with dismay and fell into a 'vehement rage', sobbing and weeping. Why her past came to light at this time cannot be known with certainty. Several historians have interpreted this as evidence of a court conspiracy led by the enemies of the Catholic Howards in an attempt to bring down the queen, a theory supported by the informer John Lascelles' devout Protestant faith. More likely the queen was caught up in circumstances beyond her control. In the spring her husband had fallen dangerously ill, prompting rumours of his imminent demise, and at the same time her former lover had arrived at court, boasting that he had previously enjoyed a sexual relationship with her and was hopeful of marrying her. Culpeper, perhaps hearing these rumours, approached the queen and was rewarded with gifts. She had granted Dereham money in a bid to buy his silence; it was perhaps the same with Culpeper. If so, Katherine's gift-giving was of no use.

Both Katherine and Culpeper denied that they had engaged in sexual intercourse, although Culpeper claimed that she was 'dying of love' for him and admitted he had sought sexual relations with her. He was executed alongside Dereham at Tyburn in December. Unlike Anne Boleyn, Katherine was not given the benefit of a public trial in which to proclaim her innocence. She and Lady Rochford were condemned by Act of Attainder and were executed within the walls of the Tower on 13 February 1542. The two women 'made the most godly and Christian end', asking the onlookers to pray for them and amend their own ungodly lives.

There is very little evidence for Katherine Howard's adultery. She admitted to a sexual relationship with Francis Dereham, and confirmed that, as a young girl, she had allowed the musician Henry Manox to fondle her. The interrogators failed to ask Katherine what she and Culpeper discussed in their lengthy meetings on the court progress, perhaps because they assumed that the two had committed adultery.  It is entirely possible, as Warnicke has suggested, that they discussed her past, with Katherine seeking to buy his silence by offering him gifts and attention. Fearing the king's discovery of her sexual past, Katherine was condemned and executed, viewed by her contemporaries as a deceitful wife who had manipulated the unassuming king into marrying her. 

In modern times, Katherine has been 'slut shamed' by historians, thus perpetuating the misogyny of the time in which she lived. David Loades, in his study of the Tudor queens, frequently refers to Katherine as 'a slut' or 'a whore', while Alison Plowden dubbed her 'a natural born tart'. These historians failed to consider the true nature of Katherine's relationships, focusing on the fiction rather than the fact of her involvement with men. As a young girl of thirteen, she had been seduced by Manox, who was in a position of authority over her, and two years later, she had been involved with Dereham, perhaps unwillingly. Then, she had married Henry VIII and had met with Culpeper in secret, not necessarily to commit adultery. By distorting the reality of her life, and ignoring the positive achievements of her queenship, modern historians have done Katherine a disservice. Dismissing her as an airheaded flirt or a scheming wanton perpetuates the misogyny and ignorance of Katherine's contemporaries. Despite advances made in historical scholarship, several historians continue to believe that she was born earlier than 1523, was immoral and scheming, and quarrelled with her stepdaughter out of spite.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Stereotyped Six Wives: Four: 'A Lady of Right Commendable Regard'


Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII of England
Lifetime: 22 September 1515 - 16 July 1557
Reigned: January 1540 - July 1540 (6 months)
Pregnancies: 0

In this new six-part series, I will be reexamining the lives and personalities of Henry VIII's six wives, seeking to portray their lives realistically in a process that discards prevailing stereotypes. Much scholarly work has been done on Henry's reign in recent decades, affording fresh insights into the politics and achievements of the period. Understandably, widespread interest in Henry's marital affairs remains unabated. Yet stereotypes continue to bedevil our knowledge of the wives of this most enigmatic king.

On 6 January 1540, Henry VIII married his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, at Greenwich Palace. The briefness of Anne's time as queen - six months - has left us only with scarce information about her character, her interests and the nature of her queenship. In popular culture she continues to be viewed as the 'Flanders Mare', an unattractive, unappealing woman who lacked the courtly accomplishments prized at Henry's court. The traditional story views Anne as celebrating her escape from the increasingly bloated Henry and considers that her fate rendered her the most fortunate of Henry's wives. However, the surviving evidence - much in Anne's own words - tells a very different tale of hope, disappointment and sorrow. Anne continued to regard herself as the rightful queen of England, which is perhaps understandable given her impressive lineage; after Katherine of Aragon, she was the most nobly born of Henry's consorts. Her relations with her successor Katherine Howard were perhaps more complex than usually believed and she was allegedly contemptuous of Henry's marriage to Katherine Parr. The French ambassador reported that Anne was much loved by her English subjects; sadly for Anne, this love was not shared by Henry VIII.

Above: Greenwich Palace. Anne of Cleves married Henry VIII there on 6 January 1540.

Anne was born on 22 September 1515, the daughter of Johann, duke of Cleves, and his wife Maria. The duchy of Cleves, located in the Holy Roman Empire, was of economic and military significance and was an important cultural centre. Anne's father employed musicians and showed favour to humanist scholars. Anne's mother was responsible for overseeing her education, which placed an emphasis on needlework and reading and writing in German. Shortly before her twelfth birthday, Anne was betrothed to Francois, heir to the duchy of Lorraine. This marriage would have enabled Anne to become a duchess, a position of prime political and social significance, enhancing her prestigious lineage and extending her family's power outwards. 

However, Anne was destined not to wed Francois. Within months of Jane Seymour's death, Henry VIII's privy councillors began considering foreign brides for their ageing monarch. Early on, Anne was considered as a candidate for Henry's hand. Christopher Mont, who served in the household of Thomas Cromwell, reported that everyone at the court of Cleves praised Anne's beauty: 'one said that she excelled the Duchess [of Milan] as the golden sun did the silver moon'. She was also reportedly demure and virtuous. In the summer of 1539, Henry VIII's court painter Hans Holbein arrived in Cleves to paint Anne. Nicholas Wotton, the resident English ambassador, confirmed that Holbein's representation of Anne was accurate. Other observers commented on Anne's physical attractiveness. The notion that Anne of Cleves was ugly, or even physically disfigured, is a later myth. Only in the following century did Bishop Burnet suggest that she was a 'Flanders mare'.


Above: The miniature that persuaded Henry VIII of Anne's beauty. 

Modern research has indicated that it was largely Henry VIII, rather than Cromwell, who was enthusiastic for the alliance with Cleves. In the face of combined Franco-Imperial hostility, marrying Anne appeared a shrewd move. In October 1539, the marriage treaty between England and Cleves was signed and Anne departed for England the following month. On 31 December, she arrived at Rochester in stormy weather, and the following day was greeted by the man who was to become her husband. Henry's behaviour, in greeting Anne in disguise, was not unusual: as Warnicke has explained, he was simply following the prevailing custom of Renaissance monarchs. However, the meeting did not go as expected. Upon sight of Anne, the king doubted that she was truly a virgin. He based his judgement on 'the looseness of her breasts and other tokens', an accepted sixteenth-century understanding of virginity. At the time, contemporaries followed Castiglione's belief that 'outward beauty is a true sign of inner goodness' and 'for the most part the ugly are also evil'.

Maidens were expected to have slim figures, thus Anne's fuller figure caused Henry to worry that, perhaps, his prospective bride was no virgin. The ambassador of Cleves' failure to deliver a copy of the Lorraine contract fuelled the king's concerns. As Warnicke suggests, because Henry believed that Anne was truly the wife of Francois, she 'had therefore been symbolically deprived of her maidenhead'. Anne's ambassadors, however, informed Cromwell that she was not Francois' wife and promised to have a copy of the contract sent to England. Two days later, Anne became Henry's wife. She had been publicly greeted by Henry some days earlier at Blackheath Common in a lavish welcome attended by the nobility of the land. The chronicler Hall referred to her impressive dress and her long golden hair. Contemporaries were impressed by their new queen's dignity and gracious nature, and de Marillac, the resident French ambassador, reported that she was much-loved by her English subjects, who esteemed her as the kindest queen they had ever had.

Anne's kind nature, however, was not sufficient to win the heart of Henry VIII. Believing her to be Francois' wife, he was later to admit that he had failed to consummate his new marriage. Far from being ignorant, as she is often depicted, Anne endeavoured to communicate with Cromwell about her marital difficulties. Cromwell informed the earl of Rutland, Anne's lord chamberlain, to behave more pleasantly towards Henry, perhaps hoping that her gracious behaviour would encourage the king to consummate the marriage. It was to no avail. The king suffered relative impotence with her. As Warnicke has noted: 'contemporary medical experts, who were unaware of psychogenic sexual dysfunction, blamed witchcraft for causing relative impotence'.

Above: Thomas Cromwell. He was executed on 28 July 1540, merely weeks after the annulment of Anne's marriage. 

Henry's failure to consummate his union caused Anne dismay and concern. As noted, she had communicated to Cromwell her concerns about the king's behaviour. Shrewdly, she maintained her dignity and performed her queenly functions with success. She accompanied her husband to Westminster in February by barge and was festively greeted by the Londoners. Anne enjoyed warm relations with her stepchildren, as displayed by her decision to order her stepson Edward a bonnet; while the seeds of her long friendship with Mary Tudor were sown. At her coronation in October 1553, Mary provided Anne with a prominent place in the procession, sitting alongside her other stepdaughter Elizabeth. 

Although she was respected and loved by her subjects, Anne's position was perilous. Her last public appearance alongside her husband was at the May Day celebrations, and shortly afterwards she learned of Henry's growing infatuation with her maid-of-honour Katherine Howard. In June, Anne revealed to Harst, the Cleves ambassador, that the king's council had requested her removal to Richmond Palace, and she admitted to him that she feared that Katherine of Aragon's fate would become her own.

Anne consented to the annulment of her marriage, but it is hardly likely that she consented happily. Her ambassador later reported that she had screamed and cried loudly, thus breaking his heart. Her settlement was generous: she was granted possession of Richmond and Bletchingley Manor for life (and later Hever Castle); precedence over all of Henry's subjects except himself, his children and his new wife; and the allowance of 8000 nobles for the maintenance of her household. However, her correspondence with Cleves was censored, thus dishonouring her. 

How Anne felt about Henry's hasty marriage to her former attendant Katherine Howard is not known. Six months later, at the New Year celebrations, Anne was invited to court and publicly greeted the new queen, who later bestowed upon her the gift of a ring and two small dogs. It is often assumed that Anne bore no ill-will towards Katherine, but the truth is perhaps more complex. As Elizabeth Norton has suggested: 'Despite her acquiescence, Anne always believed herself to be the legitimate wife of the king and the true queen. In spite of this she was, first and foremost, a survivor and, if the price of that survival was a denial of her status in exchange for a life of opulent retirement, she was prepared to play along, even if that meant accepting a new lower status beside her former maid, Queen Catherine Howard'.

More likely, Anne was biding her time. The annulment of her marriage, in her eyes, had brought great shame upon herself and her family. Her correspondence with her family was heavily censored and her position remained, to put it mildly, highly ambiguous. Even the king's subjects were uncertain how to view the former queen. Rumours spread that Anne had been delivered of a son in the summer of 1541, which indicates that some, at least, continued to view her as Henry's true wife. Chapuys reported that she was delighted at the news of Katherine Howard's downfall, probably because she viewed it as indicative of her return to queenship. She was to be highly disappointed. Henry married Katherine Parr, rather than Anne, and the former queen was reportedly in great despair at the news. She allegedly made negative remarks about the new queen's appearance.


It is simplistic and probably erroneous to view Anne of Cleves as lucky, the most fortunate of Henry's wives. She herself did not view her situation that way. Not only had Henry publicly dishonoured her by annulling her marriage and marrying her attendant, but her situation as the king's 'sister' was uncomfortably ambiguous. When Henry failed to correspond with her she reportedly became melancholy. Anne later informed her brother that she felt like a stranger in England and longed to return to Cleves.

Moreover, her financial situation experienced strain following Henry's death. In 1547 Edward VI's council confiscated her manors of Bletchingley and Richmond, leading her to request her brother's assistance. Her situation remained unresolved when Mary succeeded her brother on the throne. Anne's final years were further troubled by household disputes. She died shortly before her forty-second birthday, on 16 July 1557, at her manor of Chelsea, and was later buried at Westminster Abbey. Authors, writing in memory of her, praised her gentleness, her household management, and her piety.

Anne of Cleves was a popular queen, much respected by her subjects, and has usually been viewed in modern times as the unattractive but kindly fourth wife of Henry VIII, who had the luckiest fate of all his wives. While it might appear that way today, Anne herself did not regard her situation so positively. She longed to be queen of England and was greatly distressed when Henry married Katherine Howard and, later, Katherine Parr. As Norton suggests, she continued to regard herself as the rightful queen and believed the annulment of her marriage had inflicted shame and dishonour upon her. Marriage was the primary vocation of sixteenth-century women, in particular royal women, and thus the annulment was viewed as a failure, a perversion of Anne's destiny and a slur upon her womanhood. She longed to return to her home country, believing herself an anomaly in England. This kindly, virtuous woman, who was reportedly attractive, has been much maligned and misrepresented in modern times. Perhaps of all of Henry's queens, Anne of Cleves remains the most stereotyped. This is a pity, for the evidence suggests that she was popular, much-praised, and in her short tenure as queen, she enjoyed success in her queenly role.