Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Sarah Doig to the Parish Room last night. As anticipated, the packed room was enthralled with her account of the life of Henry VIII as viewed through the eyes of his many wives and mistresses.
Sarah began by telling us about Henry's early life, as the second son of Henry VII he was not expected to become king and so was not trained “in the art of Kingship”. Instead, he received a good all round education, becoming proficient in the athletic pursuits of hunting, fencing, jousting and archery; he could write poems and was a talented and skillful musician able to play several instruments, compose music and write lyrics. Sarah then played “Pastime with Good Company”, also known as The King's Ballard - an English folk song written and composed by Henry and the source of the title to Sarah's talk:
Pastime with good company
I love and shall unto I die
Grudge who lust, but none deny
So God be pleased thus live will I
For my pastance
Hunt, sing, and dance
My heart is set
All goodly sport
For my comfort
Who shall me let
Youth must have some dalliance
Of good or ill some pastance
Company methinks then best
All thoughts and fancies to digest
Is chief mistress
Of vices all
Then who can say
But mirth and play
Is best of all
Company with honesty
Is virtue vices to flee
Company is good and ill
But every man hath his free will
The best ensue
The worst eschew
My mind shall be
Virtue to use
Vice to refuse
Thus shall I use me
In 1502, Henry's elder brother Arthur died, aged 15, after just 20 weeks of marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II & Queen Isabella I of Spain. Arthur's duties were then given to 10 year-old Henry, who became Duke of Cornwall in October and Prince of Wales in February 1503.
Henry VII renewed efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain by offering young Henry in marriage to Arthur's widow Catherine; on 23 June 1503 a marriage treaty was signed and they were betrothed two days later. Henry's age of eleven prevented cohabitation and he rejected the marriage as soon he could, when aged 14. Henry VII died on 21 April 1509 and Henry became king, declaring soon after his father's burial on 10 May that he would marry Catherine.
Sarah described the marriage as good at this time with Catherine soon conceiving, though the girl was stillborn on 31 January 1510. Four months later she became pregnant and on New Year's Day 1511 a boy - Henry - was born, sadly dying seven weeks later. Catherine miscarried in 1514 but gave birth in February 1516 to another girl - Mary - who later became queen following the death of Edward VI (after having gathered together supporters and troops at Framlingham castle).
Relations between Henry and Catherine had been strained, but became better after Mary's birth; during this period Sarah informed us Henry had mistresses, particularly during the numerous confinements of the queen. In 1510 he had an affair with one of the sisters of Edward Stafford, though for about three years the most significant mistress was Elizabeth Blount, one of only two completely undisputed mistresses. It seems Henry had relatively few mistresses for such a virile young king, though quite how many is still disputed.
Catherine did not protest about the mistresses and in 1518 fell pregnant again with another girl, who was also stillborn. Blount gave birth in June 1519 to Henry's illegitimate son, who was given the name Henry Fitzroy - Henry after his royal father and Fitzroy to ensure that everyone knew he was son of the King. Henry VIII possibly felt the lack of a male heir was a slur on his manhood and he openly acknowledged the boy, who was made Duke of Richmond in June 1525.
Sarah moved the story onto Mary Boleyn, another mistress from roughly 1521 to 1526, who very possibly bore Henry two more children, though he acknowledged neither of them. Mary was also rumoured to have been a mistress of Henry's rival, King Francis I of France, between 1515 and 1519, something Sarah postulated could have been of great interest and attraction to Henry.
She then told us that in early 1526 Henry began his pursuit of Mary's younger sister Anne, who initially refused to become his mistress. He therefore desired to annul his marriage to Catherine so that he would be free to marry Anne. Henry and Anne married on 25 January 1533. On 23 May 1533, Thomas Cranmer declared Henry and Catherine's marriage null and void and five days later that Henry and Anne's marriage was good and valid.
The Pope decreed sentences of excommunication on both Henry and Cranmer and the first break between the Church of England and Rome took place, with the Church of England brought under the Henry's control. Anne was crowned Queen of England on 1 June 1533 and on 7 September she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I, whose gender once again disappointed Henry, though apparently he was not entirely discouraged, saying that a son would surely follow.
On 8 January 1536 Catherine of Aragon died. The queen was pregnant again and aware of the consequences if she failed to give birth to a son. Later that month Henry was unhorsed and badly injured in a tournament. When news of the accident reached Anne the shock caused her to miscarry a male child of about 15 weeks, on the day of Catherine's funeral; this was the beginning of the end of the royal marriage as by March 1536 Henry was courting Jane Seymour.
Anne's downfall came shortly after she had recovered from her final miscarriage with Henry's new mistress, Jane Seymour, being moved into new quarters and Anne's brother being refused the Order of the Garter. The day after Anne's execution in 1536 Henry became engaged to Jane, who had been one of the queen's ladies in waiting - a fruitful source of Henry's mistresses according to Sarah. The pair were married ten days later and on 12 October 1537 she gave birth to a son - the future Edward VI. The birth was difficult and Jane died two weeks later from an infection.
To ensure the succession, Henry wished to marry again; Cromwell, now Earl of Essex, suggested Anne, the sister of the Duke of Cleves, who was seen as an important ally in case of a Roman Catholic attack on England. Hans Holbein (the younger) was dispatched to Cleves to paint a portrait of Anne for Henry. After regarding Holbein's portrayal and urged by the complimentary description from his courtiers, Henry agreed to wed; however, it was not long before he wished to annul the marriage so he could marry another (perhaps the reality was not after all as good as the painting). Anne did not argue, confirming the marriage had never been consummated, whilst her previous betrothal to the Duke of Lorraine's son provided further grounds for annulment. The marriage was subsequently dissolved, with Anne receiving the title of "The King's Sister", two houses and a generous allowance.
Sarah then told us Henry had fallen for Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk's niece, seriously worrying Cromwell because Norfolk was a political opponent. Cromwell may have been blamed for the failure of the marriage and of the foreign policy it accompanied and was charged with treason. On 28 July 1540, the day Cromwell was beheaded, Henry married the young Catherine Howard, who was first cousin and lady in waiting to Anne Boleyn. Henry was delighted with his new queen and awarded her Cromwell's lands and a vast array of jewellery. However, soon after Catherine had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper and also employed Francis Dereham, who she had had an affair with and had been engaged to prior to her marriage, as her secretary.
It seems the court was informed of the affair with Dereham when Henry was away, despatching Thomas Cranmer to investigate. He brought evidence of Catherine's previous affair to the Henry's notice. Dereham confessed and Henry went into a rage, blaming the council before consoling himself in hunting. Sarah advised us that, when questioned, Catherine could have admitted a prior contract to marry Dereham, thus making her subsequent marriage to Henry invalid; she instead claimed that Dereham had forced her to enter into an adulterous relationship. He meanwhile, exposed Catherine's relationship with Thomas Culpeper; Culpeper and Dereham were executed and Catherine was beheaded on 13 February 1542.
Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr who was more his own age, in July 1543, dying four years later, giving rise to following ditty of what happened to his wives:
Divorced - Executed - Died
Divorced - Executed - Survived
Everyone had a fantastic evening, hearing a quite incredible story from a very gifted and natural narrator who both knew her stuff and could put it across in an entertaining manner.
The next History Society event will be on 9th May at 7.00 in St Lawrence Church when we host a Musical Soiree put together by one of our trustees, Gill Harritt, with all profits going to the church fabric fund - do come along for a wonderful evening's entertainment in support of a worthy cause.
Concerto in D minor for Two Violins
Vivace - Largo ma non troppo - Allegro
Sonata No. 6 Opus 3 for Violin and Guitar
Andante - Allegro vivo e spirito
The next history event is in the Parish Room on 20th May when Roger Clark, a farmer, past president of the Suffolk Horse Society and former Master of the Essex & Suffolk will present a talk entitled “My customers and other animals” - do come along for what will be a fascinating presentation.
Andy Sheppard 16th April 2015