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Henry VIII’s wives, mistresses and bastards – a summary.

katherine of aragon sil meKing Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547.  This post does not deal with women like Mistress Webbe who were regarded as so unimportant that they deserved absolutely no mention in court correspondence.

Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon from 1509 -1533 (briefly married to both Catherine and Anne Boleyn before Cranmer dissolved the former’s marriage).  They married on 11 June 1509 and initially Henry and Catherine seemed very in love  He fought in armour engraved with their initials entwined with love knots.  When he went to France in 1513 he left his queen as regent.  However, by 1516 despite a number of pregnancies Catherine had only one living child – Princess Mary.  In 1518 she started to wear a hair shirt and by 1525 Henry had ceased to live with his wife.  He first proposed to Anne Boleyn in 1527 but Catherine refused to take herself off to a nunnery.

During these years Henry’s mistresses were the illusive “Madam the bastard” referenced in a letter during his stay in Lille at the court of Margaret of Savoy; Ettienette de la Baume who sent him a bird and some roots along with a reminder for the £10,000 he had promised her when she got married.  He is also known to have had a scandalous affair with his cousin Lady Anne Stafford.  If the mink coat, diamonds and private tilting yard are anything to go by he had an affair with his friend Sir Nicholas Carew’s wife Elizabeth.  He gave £100 to Jane Popincourt when she returned to France and most notably during the period so far as history is concerned he had affairs with Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn.

Bessie Blount is the mother of his only acknowledged illegitimate child – Henry Fitzroy.  Henry was born in 1519.  Catherine of Aragon had to congratulate her on giving birth to a boy.  King Henry gave the Fitzroy name to his boy.  It was the first time the name had been used in four hundred years.  At the age of six young Fitzroy was given the dukedoms of Richmond and Somerset.  He married Lady Mary Howard the daughter of the duke of Norfolk but died, probably from tuberculosis in 1536.  Historians speculate whether his sister Elizabeth Tailboys was the king’s child or belonged to Bessie Blount’s husband – Gilbert Tailboys.  Historians generally agree that Catherine Carey who was the eldest child of Mary Boleyn is probably also King Henry’s child.  There is great speculation about whether Henry Carey was also the king’s.  It is usually felt that Henry had no need to acknowledge further illegitimate male children as he had demonstrated his abilities with young Henry FitzRoy; that Mary Boleyn was married to William Carey and that it would have been rude of Henry to have claimed either child as his given the existence of a husband (quite how that explains the expectation of sleeping with the man’s wife still eludes me!) There is also the added complication of Henry’s developing relationship with Anne Boleyn.  The hypocrisy of divorcing one wife on the grounds of consanguinity in order to marry the sister of the woman you’ve had an affair with (and children) should escape no one.

In addition to this happy little throng there is another claimant to being Henry’s child dating from this period – Thomas Stukeley was the son of Jane Pollard (wife of Sir Hugh Stukeley) from Afferton in Devon.  He was born between 1523 and 1530.   Thomas had a lively career spanning piracy, being a double agent and a forger.  He was also Henry VIII’s standard bearer in 1547.  There is not a great deal of evidence for him being Henry’s son other than him saying so and as well as his other exciting c.v. job titles he was also a fraudster.  Despite this Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth all seem to have let him get away with blue murder.  He was also said to look like Henry VIII – though this is no recommendation as followers of this blog will have worked out by now that the aristocracy were very inter-related so its perhaps not surprising that they looked like one another.

Still with me?  There’s one more from this period.  And again historians are divided in their opinions about this man as there is very little evidence to support his claim.  Mary Berekley lived in the Welsh Marches with her husband Sir Thomas Perrot.  Thomas was keen on hunting – as was Henry VIII.  It is just possible that the king enjoyed a spot of hunting with Sir Thomas Perrot and also enjoyed other recreational pursuits with his wife.  The result, according to John Perrot – was him.  John turned up at court, got into a fight with Henry’s men at arms but managed to keep his right hand because the king liked the look of the boy.  Edward VI seems to have liked him as well and he was one of the four gentlemen selected to carry Elizabeth’s canopy of state at her coronation.  This is, of course, all circumstantial – and yes, he is supposed to have looked like Henry VIII.

anne boleyn sil-mineWife number two laster for three years if we discount the seven year chase beforehand.  Anne Boleyn married Henry in 1533 because she was pregnant.  Elizabeth was born at the beginning of September 1533 and was motherless by mid-1536.  Henry still found time to be attracted to a lady at court who was sympathetic to Catherine and Mary’s plight; Anne’s own cousin Madge or Mary Shelton  as well as Joan Dingley who history names as a laundress but who was probably of a higher rank.   Joan gave birth to a child called Ethelreda or Audrey and there is sufficient evidence in the form of land grants and wills to read between the lines and recognise her as one of Henry’s children (if you feel that way inclined.)  This is also the time that sees a reference to a mysterious Mistress Parker.

jane seymour sil meJane Seymour started off as a mistress – and she was yet another Howard girl but like a predecessor advanced from bit of fluff to queen with the removal of Anne Boleyn.  Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward on the 12th October 1537 and then promptly died on the 24th October 1537 assuring herself of the position of Henry’s “true wife” and the one who he had depicted in all of Holbein’s Tudor family portraits.  There wasn’t really time for much notable womanising given the shortness of her tenure and the fact that 1536 was a bit of a bad year for Henry on account of the Pilgrimage of Grace not to mention the bad jousting accident that caused Anne Boleyn to miscarry her child (so she claimed) and which left Henry with an infected and inflamed leg.  Even so it was noted that Henry did say he wished he hadn’t married so hastily when he saw two pretty new ladies-in-waiting.

One of the new ladies-in-waiting was his uncle’s step-daughter Anne Basset who was said to be a very pretty girl.  Her mother had managed to wangle her a place at court with the gift of quails which Jane Seymour craved during her pregnancy.  There were rumours.  Henry purchased her a horse and a rather fine saddle and bridle having sent her to the country to recover her health from a mysterious illness.  All this is pretty tenuous but by now Henry had “form” and sending girls to the country for their “health” fits the pattern. Margaret Skipwith is also mentioned as a potential mistress during this time before the duke of Norfolk dangled young Katherine Howard under the king’s nose.

Anne of Cleves was wife number four.  Her tenure lasted from January to July 1540.  There’s no fool like an old fool and Henry misliking Anne declared that she was no true virgin before chasing after poor little Katherine Howard who promptly became queen number five on 28 July 1540.

These days Katherine would be defined as a victim of neglect as well as child abuse following her experiences with Henry Mannox in the home of Katherine’s step-grandmother, Agnes Tilney, dowager duchess of Norolk. In any terms  Katherine was pre-contracted in marriage to Francis Dereham – making her marriage to Henry invalid. It could be argued that having declared their intention to marry and then had intercourse that they were in fact married to one another.  As a mark of this Dereham had given her money to look after whilst he was away from her.  Katherine undoubtedly had an affair with Thomas Culpepper, one of her distant cousins, whilst she was married to Henry VIII.  The woman who made it possible for the couple to meet was Lady Rochford.  Lady Rochford was George Boleyn’s widow and the woman who had testified to an incestuous relationship between George and Anne (who needs Game of Thrones)  and just for good measure if you recall the mysterious Mistress Parker – some historians think it might have been Jane before her marriage to George Boleyn. Both Jane and Katherine were executed on 13 February 1542.

 

Henry now married the twice widowed Catherine Parr on the 12 July 1543, though Anne of Cleves did write to the Privy Council saying she would be prepared to give the whole marriage thing another go. In 1545 there was a slight wobble when Henry gave the very Catholic Bishop Gardener permission to question the queen on her religious beliefs – she survived the threat thanks to the discovery by her physician of a document on the floor of the king’s chamber that gave Katherine time to plead her course with her grouchy spouse. Her explanation that she was merely being a good wife diverting Henry from his aches and pains as well as listening to his words of spiritual wisdom must have appealed to Henry’s ego.  During the danger period before Katherine talked her way out of an appointment with an axe, the widowed, young and very pretty, dowager duchess of Suffolk – Katherine Willoughby was mentioned as a potential seventh queen.  Lady Mary Howard (widow of Henry FitzRoy) was also identified by the catholic faction as a potential queen.

And that’s about it for now on the topic of Henry and his many wives and loves for the time being.  I’ve no doubt I shall return to them.  During the last few days I’ve seen books about them (fiction and non-fiction), a Russian doll set of Henry and his wives,  gold work ornaments, felt dolls and a clock.  I’m not beyond creating a few silhouettes of my own as this post demonstrates.  The fact is that there is something about the Tudors that fascinates – and sells! Meanwhile  I’m off to delve into the varying worlds of monumental effigies and brasses; livery collars; the Coterel Gang who created havoc in fourteenth century Derbyshire; Katherine Swynford; the Wars of the Roses; Chaucer; Lincoln Cathedral; Tattershall Castle, Ralph Cromwell and Henry VI not to mention anything else that might catch my attention.

 

 

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“Never the mother!” – The Boleyn Girls, their cousins, the king and a laundress.

Mary_Boleyn-248x300.jpgMary Boleyn took part in a court masque on March 4 1522 when she was about twenty-two.  The theme was love and the title “Chateau Vert.”  Anne Boleyn, newly arrived from France, played the part of Perseverance whilst Mary played kindness.  There were eight ladies in total dressed to the nines waiting in a castle for their lords to arrive.  There were also eight choristers dressed as unfeminine behaviours such as unkindness and rather alarmingly strangeness – demonstrating that being an oddity was not something that Henry found at all endearing.

Henry’s relationship with Mary is only written about by his cousin Cardinal Reginald Pole – he pointed out, rather unhelpfully from Henry’s point of view, that if you are trying to divorce your wife because she was married to your brother but denies the marriage was ever consummated, where does that leave the woman you want to marry if you’ve had an affair with her sister?  Henry wasn’t amused.  Other than Pole’s evidence there’s not a great deal of  concrete information – which is typical of Henry’s mistresses and encounters.

Mary does fit to the pattern that emerges in Henry’s earlier relationships – in that when she returned from the service of Queen Claude where she is alleged to have had a relationship with Francis I she was married off on February 4th 1520 to Sir William Carey – one of Henry’s gentlemen.  The usual 6 shillings and 8 pence is identified in the king’s accounts as a perfectly proper gift.  But by Easter 1522 Henry was riding into jousts with the motto  “she has wounded my heart” and then there was that masque – the ritual of courtly love was being played out.  It almost seems that King Henry was in love with the idea of being in love.

In 1523 Henry owned a boat called the Mary Boleyn.  The boat had been purchased from Thomas Boleyn so could have arrived already named.

Of course the Catholic and reforming factions got to grips with the Boleyn girls- one group tried to paint them as a pair of scheming femme fatals whilst the other faction were more keen on emphasising their learning and culture.  It wasn’t long before the rumour was circulating that when he first became king, Henry, who as we have seen in the case of Anne Stafford, liked the older lady had a fling with Elizabeth Howard – Mary and Anne’s mother.  This particular rumour survives curtesy of a letter from George Throckmorton who  said that Henry on being accused of “meddling” with Anne’s mother and sister blushed and said “never the mother” – demonstrating at least that Mary was his mistress.  Nicholas Sander, a Jesuit priest went one better and according to Licence announced that not only had Henry had an affair with Elizabeth but that Anne was the result of the liaison – Thomas Boleyn being abroad during some very key dates.  This is definitely a nasty smear and when looking at the broader picture it is possible that Mary got caught up in the campaign to blacken the Boleyn name.   There is very little evidence from the time to suggest that she had an affair with Francis.  Licence also points out that the french king had an unfortunate social disease which Mary ran a high risk of catching but appears not to have done so, nor do her children bear any signs of the disease.  Of course, as with all these things its a matter of speculation and what little evidence there is can be argued both ways.

 

In any event Sir Thomas Boleyn suddenly became the king’s treasurer – presumably because he was a talented book-keeper and manager as averse to Henry being naughty with his youngest surviving daughter – let us not forget that emerging pattern of behaviour whereby the family of the king’s new mistress suddenly become financially more stable, acquire lands and new positions.  Sir Nicholas Carew got his own tiltyard in Greenwich when Henry was interested in Nicholas’s young wife Elizabeth.

 

catherine careyKatherine Carey was born in 1524 or possibly 1523.  Whose child was she: William Carey’s or the King’s?  Henry granted Carey estates and titles in Essex (so that was all right then).   If the child was Henry’s it was considered somewhat poor manners to claim the child of another man’s wife as yours and beside which she was a girl.  She first appears in the court records as a maid of honour to Anne of Cleves in 1439- so early teens which is about right.  She went on to marry Sir Francis Knollys when she was sixteen and have sixteen children.

It is clear that Katherine Carey was close to her cousin and possibly half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.  As she prepared to flee England for Protestant Germany on the accession of Queen Mary she received a letter from Elizabeth signed “cor rotto” meaning broken hearted.  Katherine did not return to England until Mary died. She was appointed Chief Lady of the Bedchamber making her one of Elizabeth’s most trusted women – nothing wrong with that they were cousins – but were they more?  When Katherine died in 1569 Elizabeth had her buried in Westminster Abbey.  The notoriously parsimonious queen paid £640 for the funeral – fit in fact for a princess.

Steven_van_Herwijck_Henry_Carey_1st_Baron_Hunsdon

Mary Boleyn’s son, Henry Carey was born in 1525 according to the date on his memorial in Westminster Abbey but evidence suggests he was actually born in 1526 (no wonder Thomas Cromwell invented parish registers!)  The question then arises did Henry continue his affair with Mary once she had returned to court after the birth of Katherine? He doesn’t appear to have resumed his liaison with Bessie Blount  after she had her child and more importantly why didn’t Henry acknowledge the boy if he was indeed the king’s?  The answer to that one is fairly straight forward – King Henry had already demonstrated that he could beget sons, Bessie Blount (unusually) wasn’t married at the time she gave birth and there was the small matter of a possible interest in Mary’s sister Anne.  All that can be said is that Henry Carey is said to have looked like Henry VIII and Carey believed himself to be the king’s son as did John Hale the Vicar of Isleworth – a declaration that got him into rather a lot of bother with the monarch. Once again the evidence when delved into can be read two different ways as it is all circumstantial and comprises of ifs, buts and wherefores.

On June 22nd 1528 when Mary’s husband William Carey died of the Sweating Sickness leaving Mary with little visible means of support.  The wardship of young Henry was given to Anne Boleyn and the king had to intercede on Mary’s behalf insisting that Thomas Boleyn house his daughter.

Queen Anne BoleynBy 1527 it was clear that Katherine of Aragon wasn’t going to have any more children and Henry wanted a male heir.  Anne Boleyn wasn’t content with the idea of being the king’s mistress.  There followed a seven year courtship written about at length elsewhere on the Internet, a protracted court case and seventeen love letters found stashed in the Vatican, probably stolen on the orders of Reginald Pole.  History does not have Anne’s letters.  It is possible to imagine Henry having a private bonfire when he tired of Anne.

 

Mary,_Lady_Heveningham_by_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerAs with his first queen a pattern of pregnancy and miscarriage developed along with another princess with wife number two.  Henry was not best pleased.  Anne Boleyn recognised that Henry was at his most likely to stray during her pregnancies so it has often been suggested that the Boleyn/Howard family encouraged Mary or possibly her sister Madge Shelton to entertain the king in 1535 whilst Anne was pregnant. The Sheltons were Anne’s first cousins.  Their mother, Anne, was Sir Thomas Boleyn’s sister.   Rumour identified Mary Shelton as a potential fourth wife for Henry whilst Madge was linked with the unfortunate Henry Norris.

Unfortunately for Anne the pattern of pregnancies, miscarriages and mistresses continued.  The key mistress of Anne’s time as queen went on to become wife number three- Jane Seymour, yet another cousin of sorts.

It was during this period that Henry seems to have taken a fancy to one of his laundresses- a girl by the name of Joan Dingley.  She was married off to a man called Dobson whilst the resulting child called Etheldreda or even Audrey depending on the source you read was reared by the king’s taylor – a man called John Malte.  The king granted him ex monastic lands so that when he died it all passed to Ethelreda – the illegitimate daughter of the taylor at  face value was unexpectedly wealthy- especially as the lands went to Ethelreda rather than John’s other children and  she moved in esteemed circles. She married John Harrington who was in the king’s service and then Princess Elizabeth’s household  In 1554 she accompanied Princess Elizabeth to the Tower as one of her ladies and attended Elizabeth’s coronation in 1559 – she died the same year.

Mary Boleyn died in July 1543, seven years after her sister Anne died a traitor’s death, having married for a second time to William Stafford in 1534.  Stafford was a soldier and not a sufficiently grand match for the queen’s sister. Mary was banished from court by Henry and Anne because of the marriage.  Her family disowned her because she had dared to marry, for love, a younger son with few prospects.  She was forced to write to Thomas Cromwell asking for help.

 

Licence, Amy. (2014) The six wives and many mistresses of Henry VIII: the women’s stories. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.

 

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