Top Ten Myths About Henry VIII

By Amy Licence

MadeGlobal’s “All About” series is the perfect choice for anyone who wants to know more about the key characters of history. The books are colourfully illustrated throughout, have a simple narrative to explain the key points in the character’s life and more detailed sections for the more- able reader or teacher. The book also contains a section of thought-provoking questions which can be used to further discussions about history.

Henry VIII is probably the most famous Tudor. He was a handsome, athletic young man; he never expected to become king and so was determined to enjoy his reign. Henry had six wives but could hate as passionately as he loved. He even had two wives executed. Henry surrounded himself with extraordinary men, including Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, and, during his reign, he changed religion forever in England. His son and daughters went on to be famous monarchs too.

Why did Henry have so many wives? Why was his reign so important?

Here are ten myths often mentioned when discussing Henry VIII

  1. Henry had six wives.

Well, yes and no. It depends on who you ask. Today we accept all the six women- Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr- as Henry’s wives and queens. He went through a wedding ceremony with each of them willingly, save for Anne of Cleves, which he wanted to wriggle out of, but it was diplomatically difficult. Yet if you asked Henry himself, he would say he had two or three true wives. According to the king, his unions with Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves were all invalid because of precontracts or other circumstances, meaning that he had been mistaken at best, deceived at worst. Henry would claim Jane Seymour as his first wife and certainly Catherine Parr as his last. His fifth wife, Catherine Howard was executed, so there was no lengthy annulment, but her precontract with Francis Dereham would have made that match invalid in the king’s eyes too.

2. Henry was huge.

At the end of his life, in his late forties and early fifties, Henry did put on weight, so this is true of that time. By his death, he had a fifty-three inch chest and a fifty-two inch waist. However, for years before this, Henry was handsome, athletic and strong. His punishing physical routine of hunting and jousting kept him in shape and he was considered to be one of the most attractive men of his day, with his red-gold hair and angelic features, as Thomas More described them.

3. Henry had syphilis.

This is very unlikely. The theory didn’t actually emerge until the late nineteenth century, when a historian identified a “ridge” on the king’s nose, in a portrait, which was supposed to indicate the final stages of the disease. However, Henry showed no symptoms of it during his lifetime and was never subjected to the contemporary mercury treatments for syphilis that his French counterpart, Francis I, took regularly. Equally, none of Henry’s children displayed signs of congenital syphilis.

4. Henry was originally intended for the church.

No, he wasn’t. It’s certainly true that Henry wasn’t intended for the throne, as he had an elder brother Arthur, who was being trained up by their father as the next Tudor king. Arthur received a very different education at Ludlow Castle, while Henry was brought up with his sisters at Eltham Palace. Yet it would have been very unlikely that his parents had ever destined him for the church and his upbringing shows no signs of it. If he had been the fourth, fifth, or sixth son, this might have been the case but, although Arthur’s death was not expected, life was fragile and could swiftly end. Henry VII and Elizabeth of York had lost a couple of children in infancy and knew the dangers. Prince Henry was raised as the spare heir but, from the age of eleven, was in line to inherit. This misapprehension may arise from descriptions of him during his teens, in which an observer commented that he was kept closeted away.

5. Henry was a big eater.

Reputedly so, but then he would have needed to eat lots to replace the calories he burned off, spending days in the saddle. There would have been no throwing the bones into the fire though, as some popular films have suggested. Impeccable manners were an essential at court.

unnamed
6. Henry was something of a prude.

This one is difficult to know, as it’s all about what happened behind closed doors. While Henry was definitely not the celebrated Romeo that Francis I proved to be, he did have mistresses and fathered at least one illegitimate child that we know of. And that’s the key to this one: it’s about what we do know and what we don’t know. Henry wasn’t so much a prude, as very private and discreet. We only know about his affair with Bessie Blount because she fell pregnant and about Mary Boleyn because it raised potential problems when he wanted to marry her sister. Without those accidents, we would know nothing about Henry’s mistresses at all. So there may well have been others.

7. Henry nearly died twice.

He did indeed! In 1536, the king suffered a terrible fall during a joust, in which his horse fell on top of him, leaving him unconscious for two hours. Then, in 1538, the ulcer on his leg became infected and he writhed in pain for over a week, reputedly turning black in the face, so that his life was despaired of. Things would have been very different in England, had either of those occasions finished him off. He must have been very strong indeed to survive both.

8. Henry was a Protestant.

No! Henry broke with the Pope and established himself as the head of the church of England but, until the day he died, he considered himself to be a reformed Catholic. It was the abuses of the Catholic church he rejected and continued to persecute Protestants as heretics. Sometimes his reforms did seem to send mixed messages, and he drew back from some of them towards the end of his life.

9. Henry executed lots of people.

Henry did not shy away from inflicting “justice.” Especially towards the end of his life, he stepped up his campaign to rid himself of his enemies, even those who had formerly been his close friends, ministers or even his relatives. After the death of Anne Boleyn in 1536, he pursued any perceived treason very harshly, with another purge of his “enemies” in 1538 and, 1541, sending the elderly Margaret Pole to the block. He was ready to make an example of those who rose against him too, ordering mass executions of those protesting against religious reform following the Pilgrimage of Grace. Those who spoke out against his regime, him, or his wives, in the 1530s and 1540s, even through reported gossip, could expect the worst.

10. Henry’s palaces were dirty and smelly.

Well, they were, but only after several weeks of the court being in residence there. Henry himself was rather a clean freak, obsessed with avoiding the bad odours and airs that were thought to spread illness. He had baths installed in his palaces, either made of stone or of wood lined with linen, all supplied by pumped water. He gave detailed instructions for the regular cleaning of his son Edward’s apartments and moved regularly to allow cleaning to take place. His close-stools were regularly changed, his laundry washed and scented, and his rooms swept and perfumed. In later years, the ulcer on his leg did emit unpleasant smells, but that was the result of illness, not lack of hygiene.

__________________________________________________________________

Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at amylicence.weebly.com and her new book can be found at the following Amazon link;

Book Review – Catherine of Aragon; An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence

By Nathen Amin

I’ve said in previous book reviews for Amy Licence, that she is unquestionably the most prolific historian writing today. Her output of books in recent years is incredible, the culmination of a life’s fascination and study of the subject, and this continues with her latest offering, Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife.

My first thought upon receiving the book, is that it’s MASSIVE. It’s a seriously thick book, comprising 560 pages split across 7 separate parts. Covered are Catherine’s birth and childhood in Spain, her marriage to Prince Arthur, her widowhood, her early marriage years to Henry VIII, her life as Queen of England, the downfall of her marriage and her final, tragic years. It’s fair to say, this may just be the definitive account of the life of Catherine of Aragon.

Licence’s speciality is the study of the Tudor women, as women in their own right, not as mere decorations of their husbands, fathers or brothers, and it is this expertise she applies to Catherine of Aragon, the foremost Tudor woman for the first quarter of the sixteenth century.

The author leaves no stone unturned, and covers the entirety of Queen Catherine’s life, not just her more infamous moments. Anyone with a passing interest in the Tudors will know of Catherine’s doomed marriage to Arthur, followed by her second union with his brother, Henry. This does not, and should not, define Catherine, however, and the author does a great job in examining the early life of the Spanish princess, from her birth in 1485 to her upbringing amongst the fascinating and colourful royal court of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, Europe’s renowned Catholic Monarchs. Catherine’s later devoutness and stubbornness did not come from nowhere, it was imbued in her as a product of this illustrious Spanish union.

14591841_1222548391146094_4556601838587401747_nParticularly fascinating, and crucial to Catherine’s life, is the detailed account of her 1501 wedding to Arthur, particularly the subsequent ‘did they, didn’t they?’ bedding ceremony, or ‘the most famous bedding ceremony of all time’ as Licence aptly puts it. Intriguingly, Licence offers a third, graphic, scenario as to what happened on that fateful night, a compelling theory that may just make you blush.

We are also treated to an in-depth insight into Catherine’s life in between her marriages. It is often overlooked that this span of time was eight years, that is almost a decade of character growth which is often disregarded in other books on the subject. It is these insights into the lesser-known minutiae of the queen’s life that make Licence’s book a worthwhile purchase. In fact, I’d argue it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to study, or gain greater knowledge, of the first half of the Tudor century of rule.

As expected perhaps from the leading Tudor historian on female matters, this book is sympathetic and understanding of its subject, but that’s not to say in a biased or predisposed way. Licence comes to her conclusions about Katherine through sheer research of her character, her influences and her actions, and puts forward a compelling case of a pious and courageous woman who only sought to serve her god, and serve her husband, in the manner she thought best. This is a compassionate and positive portrayal of Catherine, but that is only because it is the least the woman deserves.

Quite simply, there doesn’t appear to be anything more said on the subject of Catherine of Aragon, that what Amy Licence has covered in her colossal biography.

Catherine of Aragon’s First Meeting with the Tudors

The following is an exclusive extract from Catherine of Aragon, An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence, available now by Amberley Publishing.

81zdzwfjj6l

By Amy Licence

The man that Catherine met on the evening of November 6, 1501, was approaching forty-five and had been on the English throne for sixteen years. He was described extensively by the Italian Humanist Polydore Vergil, who first came to England in 1502, just short months after Catherine’s arrival, and was welcomed at court, with ample opportunity to observe the King at this time in his life. Henry was above average height, with a slender but strong, well-built body. Vergil judged him to be “remarkably attractive” in appearance “and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking,” his eyes were “small and blue,” his complexion sallow and, by this age, his hair was grey, turning white, and his teeth “few, poor and blackish.” Two years earlier, his clothing had been described by Trevisa, another foreign visitor, who was impressed that “his Majesty wore a violet-coloured gown, lined with cloth of gold, and a collar of many jewels, and on his cap was a large diamond and a most beautiful pearl.”

Vergil also commented at length on Henry’s character, finding his “spirit distinguished, wise and prudent, his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at moments of the greatest danger, deserted him.” He had a good memory and was shrewd and prudent, so that “no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile” and knew well how to maintain his royal majesty “in every time and place.” No doubt he made Catherine fell welcome, as Vergil claimed him to be “attentive to his visitors an easy of access,” adding that “his hospitality was splendidly generous (and) he was fond of having foreigners at his court and he freely conferred favours on them.” Vergil was also critical of Henry’s harsh judgement of transgressors and his avarice, but these would only become relevant to Catherine in the coming years.

Henry was delighted with what he saw, although communication proved a little difficult. He hurried away to bring Arthur to her side and, finally, after years of correspondence, planning and anticipation, the young pair stood face to face. It was not how Catherine had imagined it, thinking she would first see her husband at the altar, dressed in her wedding finery, lifting her veil when the vows had been exchanged. Into the room came a boy who did not look unlike his father, with a long, thin face and dark eyes, sensitive mouth and fashionably cut dark hair, if his portrait of around 1499 is to be believed. In that, he poses with a white rose between his fingers, dressed in a gown of cloth of gold lined with fur, over a red doublet with gold edging, a jewelled pendant of black stones set in gold and a black hat and jewel, from which hang three pearls. Painted in oil with gold leaf on a wooden panel, it is the only surviving portrait painted during the boy’s lifetime, the closest impression of what Catherine saw at Dogmersfield.

An altarpiece depicting Henry’s family which was painted a couple of years after Arthur’s death, shows a youth with a somewhat generic face, the copy of his father’s long dark hair and eyes, wide mouth and strong nose. Other contemporary images, in a Guild Book of Ordinances and at prayer in a window at Great Malvern Priory, are similarly general and lacking in personal detail, even touched up in later years. A final image of Arthur from the 1520s depicts a more mature face, with strong nose and small mouth, the sitter wearing a gold chain of office and a red hat with a pilgrim badge, his empty right hand open before him, where the previous portrait had held a flower.

From these three images, it seems likely that the fifteen-year-old Arthur was dark in colouring, with a longish, slender face and nose, thin lips and a sensitive expression; a young king-in-waiting, wearing his learning and legacy as visibly as the marks of his status. There are definite facial similarities with a 1509 portrait of Arthur’s younger brother Henry, the future Henry VIII, about the eyes and mouth, with the boys having the same blunt, straight-cut bobbed dark hair under a black hat of Arthur’s 1499 portrait and the red gown with brown fur shown in the 1520 work. One key difference is the flower held between Henry’s fingers, which is red rather than white, emphasising his Lancastrian roots. There is no evidence to suggest that Arthur was in anything other than good health, or that his health during childhood had been poor: he was a tall, slender boy who elicited nothing but compliments from his contemporaries.

__________________________________________________________________

Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at amylicence.weebly.com and her new book can be found at the following Amazon link;

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Catherine-Aragon-Intimate-Henry-VIIIs/dp/1445656701/ref=la_B008GEGNV2_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479806880&sr=1-2

 

Book Review – All About Henry VII by Amy Licence

By Nathen Amin

Whoever knew that Henry VII would ever have a children’s book dedicated to him? I was very surprised, albeit pleased, when I found out that such a thing had been written by historian Amy Licence and when one considers the story of the first Tudor king, it makes perfect sense. A boy born without a father, separated from his mother, exiled abroad, becomes king on a battlefield and marries the beautiful princess. If the scaled down story of Henry Tudor, sans confusing financial accounts and foreign treaties, is not a story that can be adapted for children, then what hope is there for any other historical subject?

Licence’s book is designed for use for pupils aged between 7 and 11 and will serve as an admirable introduction to the subject for children. Writing for children is not an easy task, having to take in account their lower grasp of language and the ability to analyse the information convey to them. One misplaced reference or word outside the child’s range is enough to lose the reader. I find this difficult enough to do when the audience is adult, but credit to Licence, she avoids this pitfall with ease. The colourful illustrations throughout only serve to add to the author’s simple narrative.

81s-2ab95VLAn example paragraph highlights how Licence takes one of the most contest and debated episodes in British history and simplifies it for her audience, retaining its factual basis;

“Edward IV became king of England again. He ruled for another twelve years and died in 1483. Edward had a son who should have been king when his father died. Prince Edward and his brother went to stay in the Tower of London and were never seen again. Instead, the Princes’ uncle was crowned Richard III. Some people questioned this, wondering what happened to the sons of Edward IV. Richard III might have had something to do with it, or he might not”.

Licence covers all of Henry’s life, from his birth to his exile, and from Bosworth to his marriage. She covers his period as king, the pretenders to his throne, and his various children. A number of discussion questions at the end also serve to add another dimension to the intention behind the book, to educated and engage children.

It is clear that from Licence’s teacher background, and her own position as mother, she is able to tap into the minds of her targeted audience. I fail to see how any child will not be intellectually challenged by this captivating book, ideal for use in the classroom or the home. Maybe, just maybe, it is books like Licence’s that will inspire the future generation of historians.