Poor Henry VIII

Today is St. Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Scotland, and in 1529 Henry VIII was metaphorically kilt.

(brief pause for applause)

As I mentioned in Blood Will Tell, according to the Spanish ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, on this day:

“Henry went to have dinner with his wife, who was still recognized formally as the queen. During the course of the meal she accused him, correctly if not wisely, of neglecting her and treating her badly. The king then tried to argue that his behavior was understandable, since everyone in the court agreed with him that their marriage would be found to be unlawful. Katherina lined up his arguments, broadsided them, and sank them with all hands on board, leaving him dumbfounded and fuming. She finished her mental annihilation of his assertion that they were not married by telling him that “for each doctor or lawyer who might decide in your favor and against me, I shall find a thousand to declare that the marriage is good and indissoluble”.

For twenty years his gentle wife had seemed to defer to his wisdom; her intellectual victories over him must have astonished and dismayed the King. Henry was goaded by his hurt pride into making a rash threat that he would later prove good, saying that he would “denounce the Pope” and “marry whom he pleased”. This was a momentous occasion. It showed that Henry was beginning to regard the Pope’s authority as less than divinely mandated and heralded the eventual break from Rome. The king then fled to Anne, his dignity in tatters, hoping for comfort. Sadly for Henry, Anne — who was witty when she was in a good mood but could verbally eviscerate those who angered her — wasn’t inclined to sympathize. Instead of comforting him, she told him that he was foolish to argue with Katherina because the queen always won. She then went on to vent her annoyance with the whole situation by telling him that he would probably one day return to Katherina, abandoning Anne after having destroyed her chances of marrying anyone else. She pointed out that she could have had several children by now if she had been left alone to wed a lesser nobleman. Anne, having whipped herself up into a froth of indignation, cried “alas!” and bid “farewell to my time and youth spent to no purpose at all”.

Many historians have, inexplicably to me, been very sympathetic to Henry’s “plight” of having to live with a strong-willed wife and a strong-willed fiancé in the same house. Woe unto Henry, for the hens do peck. The thing is, Henry is the only one to blame for this fluster cluck of hens. He’s trying to throw Katherina off yet still have her baby him, while at the same time making his mistress live with them and having his courtiers treat her as queen. Moreover, I am of the opinion that Anne was coerced into agreeing to marry him in the first place because he would NOT give up, so she was stuck in purgatory for a spoiled man she didn’t really love. If that is not a situation to make women testy, I don’t know what is.

Some historians have also “pitied” Henry because he couldn’t win an argument with either woman. I don’t pity him, but I will say that I reckon him to have been flabbergasted by his verbal comeuppance. Henry was a polymath and genius trained in rhetoric by the finest minds in Europe and feted by none other than Erasmus himself, and he was the king, anointed by God Almighty to rule England … yet his first two queens routinely handed him his butt in his hat during a fight. No man, even if he could, would have dared to have done that to his monarch. Katherina and Anne, however, saw him as a man, and they were sick of his nonsense.

Women, the lesser sex, were thought to be less capable of logic and rhetoric than men. Women were supposed to be overly emotional (compared to reasonable men) and rely on emotionalistic drivel to get their way. Women were not supposed to be able to rip a man’s argument apart like used tissue and throw it in his face. Nonetheless, Katherina and Anne kept on doing it to Henry.

No wonder he married Jane Seymour next. She was the human equivalent of rice pudding – sweet, dense, and bland. There is no historical evidence of her ever besting Henry in an argument. Henry could outwit Jane should occasion call for it. He could finally feel himself to be superior to his wife in truth, rather than in cultural expectation.

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