Which of his wives, was Henry VIII actually in love with?


This week we’re going to have a post about the Henry VIII era every day.  If I haven’t said it before, let me say it again – we are super cool people!

Want to kick it off with some #QuickFireThoughts on which of his wives Henry VIII was actually in love with.  It’s one of those fairly meaningless questions which can’t be proved wrong or right either way – but hopefully you’re getting the gist of this blog by now.

Of course, ‘love’ is a subjective term at the best of times.  It’s not 100% clear what it means to us today, let alone how we decipher it against the backdrop of the Tudor marriage market and different expectations about fidelity on the part of the husband.  But ultimately love is timeless.  What we’re looking for in this post, are indications of Henry’s passion and commitment to his respective spouse; feelings driven more from the heart than a logical pragmatism and a passion that was deeper than physical.

Let’s go.

  • Katherine of Aragon – He was certainly enthusiastic about marrying her and treated her (in public) fairly well to start with.  But there were probably other motives.  He was keen for the alliance with Spain (of which her father was effectively King) and wanted to appear like a man rather than a boy.  A prestigious wife helped with that.  Alison Weir argues that Henry’s ‘love’ for Catherine was never really passion.  I think she is probably right.  As I’ve argued in another post, Henry was probably unfaithful to Katherine within a year of their marriage.
  • Anne Boleyn – Surely this is a no-brainer?  I guess you could argue it was infatuation rather than love but I think that’s splitting hairs.  I also don’t think the violent reversal in his feeling suggests it was never love to start with and that, in part, may have been fuelled by feelings of betrayal.  Yep, with Anne it was love; heart and soul.   Until it became hate.
  • Jane Seymour – Hmm…tricky one.  She was in the right place at the right time and being the polar opposite of Anne certainly helped.  And who knows what would have happened had she lived.  But we have to go on what we have – and remember that no love is without questionable motives.  She was the Queen that he always mourned and remembered.  As Roxette might say, “it must have been love.”
  • Anne of Cleaves – Actually I have an unusual but credible theory on this.  There is newly discovered evidence that – ah sorry, can’t keep this up!  No.  Just, no!
  • Catherine Howard – Perhaps the trickiest one of all.  But I’m going for no.  I think it was lust.  He was hurt by her betrayal but I’m not sure the feelings ran deep.  But I am prepared to be out-argued on this one…
  • Katherine Parr – He admired her.  Respected her.  Cared for her.  But it’s difficult to see that a flame was burning.  During her time, he still lauded the memory of Jane – but then she had given Henry his only son.  It’s a toss up, but I’m going to land on ‘no.’

And now…over to you geeks.  Have I underestimated his feelings for Catherine Howard?  Were his feelings for his first wife genuine love that faded with time?  Were his lasting affections for Jane entirely rooted to the fact that she had delivered a son?  I want to know what you think!

In defence of Henry VI

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Been thinking lately about good King Henry.  No not that one.  Nor that one.  Not even that one.

I speak not of Henry VIII, who transformed England perhaps more than any other ruler.  Nor do I dwell on his father, who founded the infamous Tudor dynasty.  I do not even mean the fifth Harry, who took England to its 100 year war zenith at the battle of Agincourt.

Instead, I’ve been pondering the reign of Henry VI – the man whose reign was seen as so disastrous that it led to the Wars of the Roses and ultimately, the downfall of Lancaster and the rise of York.  He was weak.  Easily led.  He had no desire for glory in war.  He lacked ruthlessness.  He was far too trusting; particularly when it came to unscrupulous advisers.

All this is accurate.  He had none of the qualities necessary for successful medieval Kingship.

But something bothers me about how history judges him.  No sympathy has emerged and few rarely speak up for his good qualities.  He was a man of genuine religious conviction.  He was compassionate.  He invested in education.  He forgave people that wronged him.  He was not promiscuous.  He took care of his maternal half-brothers.  He was a lover of peace.

None of this, I agree, would have endeared him to contemporaries.  But shouldn’t the 21st century observer be pouring praise on these virtues?  After all, the behaviour of Catherine Howard made her a totally unsuitable Tudor Queen; but the modern reader has sympathy with her, recognising that she was essentially an abused teenage girl, forced into marriage with an obese man in his 50s.  Why isn’t Henry VI given the same generosity?

It has come to my attention of late that the Wars of the Roses are still being fought – albeit by history fans on Twitter.  Great!  But it surprises me that so many side with Edward IV at the expense of poor Henry.

Don’t get me wrong – as I’ve said above, I understand why contemporaries would have seen Edward as the better King.  But shouldn’t we judge differently?  Shouldn’t we be quick to acknowledge that virtuous, faithful, peaceful Henry is a better offering than adulterous, gluttonous and war ready Edward – even if we have to sadly acknowledge that the latter probably makes you a better ruler of 15th century England?

But we don’t.  Part of me can’t shake the feeling that this has all been distorted by the fact that so many history fans have a crush on Max Irons…

Anyway, for this blogger at least, Henry VI deserves a reprieve.  He may have been one of the most unsuited heads to ever wear a crown – but he’s one of the finest characters in the annals of history.

Okay Yorkists (and other geeks) – do your worst.  Tell me where I’m going wrong!  I want to hear what you think!

Who would win ‘Tudor Big Brother?’

Image result for Tudor roseImage result for big brother

As I was watching the Celebrity Big Brother Final on Friday, a strange thought occurred to me.  In a house full of contestants from the Tudor era who would emerge victorious?  Would Thomas Cromwell calculate a winning game plan?  Would Anne Boleyn see off Katherine of Aragon, even though she didn’t have seven years in which to do so?  Who would Catherine Howard hook up with, and how many minutes would it take her to do so?  In other words ‘who would win Tudor Big Brother’?

For a #BitofFun I decided to bash out a blog post with #NoHistoricalValue to explore this very question.  Here we go…


Up for eviction: Catherine Howard, Henry VII, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleaves
Evicted: Anne Boleyn

It is perhaps no great surprise that the Lady Anne becomes the first housemate to leave the Tudor Big Brother House.  Having made no secret of her brazen game plan to win at any cost, she quickly earnt the disdain of her female housemates, every one of whom nominated her for eviction.  While she held a ‘fascination’ for some male members of the house, her brittle manner clearly grated with the English public who have sent her to the block at their first opportunity.  For many, the final straw was her guns-a-blazing row with fellow housemate Jane Seymour, which earned her a reprimand from Big Brother for ripping a locket off the ‘little wench’s’ neck.

“No one minds a girl on the make,” comments TV Vicar Rev.Thomas Cramner, “but it’s the 16th century people – we expect some subtlety!”

Up for eviction: Catherine Howard, Henry VII, Mary Tudor (The French Queen), Thomas Wolsey
Evicted: Henry VII

After two weeks and two evictions in the Tudor Big Brother House, there have still been no surprises.  Despite Catherine of Aragon’s spectacular fall out with Thomas Wolsey (which saw the former punished by Big Brother for orchestrating a nominations campaign against the latter) there was never any real doubt that it was Henry VII that would incur the wrath of housemates and the public alike.  While a few boundaries here and there might be helpful, the contestant’s obsessive need to impose fines on fellow housemates for the slightest misdemeanour was never likely to ingratiate him with others and once you’ve charged Charles Brandon £100 for not doing the dishes seven times, it quickly ceases to be gripping viewing.

“He spent his early years in France,” his mother, Margaret Beaufort told sister show ‘Big Brother’s Wench on the Side’, “and it’s possible he picked up one or two bad autocratic habits over there.  But at the end of the day I just wish everyone saw him like I do – after all, he is my dear King and all my worldly joy!”



Nominated for eviction: Charles Brandon, Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, Thomas Wolsey
Evicted: Charles Brandon, Catherine Howard

It had all started so well for the dashing Brandon.  Charming to the ladies, eloquent in the diary room and part of a bromance with fellow housemate Henry VIII which captured the imagination of the public.  But then he broke the brother code.  What seemed like a harmless flirtation with Mary Tudor stepped up a notch this week, earning him the jealous disinterest of female housemates  and the rage of his new flame’s brother.  The arguments that followed were too much for the Tudor Big Brother House and from the pile of nominations Brandon received, it’s clear the housemates sided with Henry.  Tonight’s eviction shows that no traitor can ever keep the affections of the English people, however much he might be able to steal the heart of their Princess.

Catherine Howard on the other hand, has done well to survive as long as she has, having faced the public vote every week of the contest.  Her girlish antics including hours at the make-up station and constantly trying to start pillow fights may have amused her male housemates, but quickly earned her the chagrin of their female counterparts.

“It’s pretty obvious why she survived the first two weeks though,” says celebrity commentator Thomas Culpepper.  “She’s petite, plump and pretty – every bloke in the country’s been voting for her!  With tonight’s eviction the eye-candy quota is seriously on the slide.”


**SHOCK TWIST – Public vote to evict two contestants WITHOUT nominations from the house**

Evicted: Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Wosley

Has Big Brother ever seen a bigger pair of game players?  By deploying every tactic under the sun and cosying up to whoever holds the balance of power in the house, as well as keeping everyone on side by taking most of the boring chores off their hands, these two strategists had largely avoided nomination.  However the public had seen what housemates had not.  The secret strategy sessions,  the willingness to throw others (including each other) under the bus and the sinister comments in the diary room.  This week, voters finally got chance to cast their own judgement and it was ‘off with their head’ for both of them.



Nominated for eviction: Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleaves
Evicted: Henry VIII, Mary Tudor

Just weeks ago, the stunning, learned and cultivated Henry VIII had been the bookies favourite to win but as the days went by his star slowly diminished as he faced problem after problem.  First of course, was the slight irritation of other housemates when he kept stringing along Katherine of Aragon.  Then there was the bust up with Brandon, but the moment the public really began to lose sympathy with the auburn haired Tudor, was his decision last week to nominate Anne of Cleaves, purely on the basis that she ‘looked like a horse.’  It wasn’t that he was saying anything that people weren’t thinking – but this is England, and there are some things you don’t say,

“The public have no idea how hard it is to keep a trim waistline inside that house,” says Edward III, winner of ‘Plantagenet Big Brother’, “but the way Henry piled on the pounds in there was something else altogether.  At the end of the day, this is the Tudor era and image is everything.”

There is however, far less to say about Mary “the French Queen” Tudor’s eviction.  And that’s definitely not because the author of this post has yet to read a really good biography on her and has only limited knowledge, making it difficult to think of something funny to say.  Oh no.  It’s not that at all.


Finalists: Anne of Cleaves, Katherine of Aragon, Katherine Parr, Elizabeth of York.

It’s an all-girl final on ‘Tudor Big Brother’ – the lines are closed and the results are in.

Fourth place – Anne of Cleaves – In the first couple of weeks, no one expected the shy and reserved Lady Anna to last all the way to the final.  Struggling with the language and keeping herself to herself, she wouldn’t even remove her veil for the first few days.  Most worryingly, fellow housemates kept complaining about ‘offensive odours’ emanating from her direction, but suddenly things got better.  Some impressive country dancing, an emerging sense of dignity and a thirst for survival managed to endear her to housemates, saving her from facing the public vote until last week.  Loving nothing more than the rushing to the rescue of a wronged woman, the public chose instead to eject Henry VIII who had, quite frankly, been rather mean about poor Anna ever since week 1.

Third place – Elizabeth of York – Didn’t she do well?  By instantly adopting the position of house Mum, ‘our Liz’ (as she is commonly known) was adored by the housemates who in diary room visit after diary room visit just couldn’t find a bad word to say against her.  Although her constant bragging that she was ‘young enough to have more children’ started to grate with some of the other girls, her redeeming qualities saved her from being nominated even once, handing her a place in the final without even having to face the public vote.

Second place – Katherine of Aragon – At first, things didn’t look good for the house’s only Spanish contestant.  Fawning over Henry VIII – who fluctuated between leading her on and callously rejecting her – and being bullied by Anne Boleyn, housemates, the public and commentators alike were wondering when this woman was going to grow a backbone and that’s exactly what she did.  From her vengeful gloating at the eviction of Anne Boleyn to her fierce rowing with Wolsey, the Infanta showed us all that she was nobody’s victim and has taken the fight all the way to the final.

WINNER – Katherine Parr – Surely from now on to be known as ‘the great survivor’ this lowly knight’s daughter has delivered entertainment, enrichment and excellent game-play over an entire series.  Helpful and chirpy around the house, this year’s winner was no wall flower, arguing about religion and squaring up to opponents.  She knew how to survive, even when it meant backing down.

TV psychologist Katherine Willoughby says, “Any woman who can stay up most of the night reading illegal protestant books with a torch under her covers, but is also first up for morning mass the next day is going to be complex psychologically as well as pretty hard headed.  I certainly wouldn’t want to take her on.”


Editor’s note: Unfortunately Jane Seymour was removed from the house in week three due to ill health.


Anyway, just some thoughts from me.  But the question is geeks – who would you want to see in the Tudor Big Brother House and what do you think would happen?

Alison Weir’s new series: The six things I’m most looking forward to discovering


Like most history enthusiasts, I do my level best to view everything I read with an objective and critical eye.  When it comes to unearthing the secrets of the past, loyalty to any historian or school of thought is misplaced.  The truth is all that matters.

Nonetheless, we wouldn’t be human if, when it came to authors and historians, we didn’t develop our favourites.  People whose style, both of writing and research, not to mention interpretation, seems to grip us; often for the very reason that they think differently to ourselves and challenge our thinking.

As many of you know, my favourite is Alison Weir.  So it was with great excitement that I discovered she had announced she was revisiting the subject of ‘the six wives of Henry VIII’ both in the form of a revision of her early 90’s work and in six new novels, one for each wife.

All new works are exciting, but there’s something extra special about the novels.  As the author herself has said, the novelist has a great deal more freedom than the historian.  She can use this medium to test theories and speculate in a way that wouldn’t be appropriate in a history book.  However, if this speculation is rooted in well-researched fact, it still has a high degree of historical value.

The first book on Catherine of Aragon will be released later this year and so I wanted to take this chance to say which six things I am most looking forward to discovering as the series unfold.

  1. Was Catherine of Aragon’s first marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales consummated? It was the peg that Henry VIII later hung his divorce case on and Catherine went to her grave denying that she had known the touch of man prior to marriage number 2.  Recently, based largely on Alison’s arguments in previous books, I argued that Catherine was probably telling the truth.  However, Alison has been tantalising teasing that new evidence has come to light which solves the question conclusively.  I will be very interesting to see what path she takes in the novel…
  1. Had Anne Boleyn sinned against Henry in her heart? In Alison’s excellent book ‘The Lady in the Tower’ she notes that second wife Anne, swore that she had never sinned against Henry in body, potentially suggesting that she could have in some other way.  I will be fascinated to see whether Mrs Weir interprets Anne as having a heart which belongs to another.
  1. Exactly what kind of person was Jane Seymour? Jane is famous for giving Henry his longed for only (legitimate) son but I’ve always felt she died too suddenly for history to make much of a judgement on her.  I can’t wait to see how Alison interprets her personality.
  1. What did Anne of Cleves make of Henry VIII?  It’s well known that Henry was not enamoured with this German Princess (“she looks like a horse”) but history is generally silent on what she thought of the obese, older man.  I’m sure however, that Alison will have a view…
  1. How old was Catherine Howard? The age of wife number 4 is disputed by about 4 years and I actually think it makes quite a big difference as to how we interpret her ‘flighty’ behaviour.  It might sound geeky (and it probably is), but I’m keen to see what Alison’s current view on it is.
  1. How close did ‘the one that survived’ come to not surviving? Henry was the King of mind games (actually, he was the King of England, but you know what I mean).  I’ve never been sure how much he considered getting rid of Katherine Parr (a warrent for her arrest was prepared and discovered) or whether that was just another trick.  Alison, no doubt, will be able to set me straight.

Anyway, as you would expect, I will review all the books on the site as they are published.

So geeks…over to you.  Anyone else looking forward to the series?  What things would you most like to learn about Henry VIII’s six wives?