Although this post should be about Anne Boleyn, considering that she was crowned queen on 1 June 1533, my mind always turns to the OTHER living Queen of England who could only weep helplessly while the woman she believed “stole” her husband now “stole” her throne as well; Katherina of Aragon.
I have explain, at length and possibly ad nauseum, that Anne Boleyn did everything she possible could to escape Henry VIII’s attentions, and that she only capitulated to his suit under duress, but just as my proofs frequently fall on deaf ears today the reality of whom-pursued-whom was elided in the sixteenth century as well. Katherina of Aragon hated, and I mean hated, Anne Boleyn because it was all that strumpet’s fault Henry wanted an annulment.
Part of this is normal human psychology; it is harder to hate someone you love and Katherina still love Henry. A wife who is being cheated on frequently convinces herself that her husband only strayed because the other woman made it too easy or too tempting for him to resist. A wife who loves her cheating husband will come up with a multitude of excuses for his immoral betrayal, and those excuses usually center on the ‘real’ culpability of the woman who ‘stole’ him. We’ve all seen this phenomenon on the world stage – Jennifer Anniston clearly blamed Angelina Jolie for the dissolution of her marriage to Brad Pitt – and closer to home, either personally or for a friend.
Anyone who loved Katherina likewise hated Anne for her sake, much as I have castigated anyone with whom a good friend’s significant other has had an affaire. The sniping from the ladies at court, most of whom were both loyal to the first queen and unhappy at the idea a wife could be replaced with a younger model on a whim (in an age where a woman had no other security but what a man gave her, being securely married was of utmost importance), must have been hellish for Anne. Even her own relatives were happy to slut shame her, either behind her back or subtly to her face. Katherina’s friend and the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys had begun to refer to Anne as “la putaine”, or “the whore”, in his letters by 1533, and even after Katherina’s death in 1536 he would still refer to Anne as the “English Messalina”.
Worse for Anne, the first queen was still immensely popular with the common people both home and abroad. Londoners were calling Anne a “naughty paikie”, which was a very coarse and vulgar word for a prostitute, a word that made “whore” seem tame in comparison. A paikie was not a semi-classy brothel worker; this was a woman who serviced men sexually for alcohol while standing against a wall near the docks. The English also mocked “Nan Bullen” and jeered at the king’s affection for this jumped-up hussy. In Catherina’s home country Henry’s new love was so reviled that to this day there is a demon by the name of Ana Boleyna in Spanish mythology. Almost everyone was on Katherina’s side of the argument.
Yet in the face of all this opposition Henry still married Anne and had her named his queen.
Did it make things easier for Katherina to know that the “false” queen was so universally despised? Or was it a meager and cold comfort when the evil whore who seduced Henry was crowned as her belly bulged with a child that would possible supplant Princess Mary? Did Katherina pray that Anne’s baby would not be a boy? Did she lower herself to hope the baby would die, as her own children had perished? Could any mortal woman not wish catastrophe on Anne from Katherina’s vantage point? After all Katherina had suffered, after the Pope declared her Henry’s true wife, her husband was still putting the crown that was rightfully hers on Nan Bullen’s unworthy brow. How could the unfairness of it all not eat away at Katherina’s soul? How could she not be bitter? Was this bitterness, and an acid stomach that often accompanies great stress, the reason Katherina became unable to eat anything but the most bland fare?
I don’t think Anne was to blame for Henry’s actions, but it is impossible to dwell on Katherina of Aragon’s intense emotional suffering without great sympathy for her hatred of Anne. The coronation of Henry’s second queen, a day of triumph for Anne Boleyn, may have been the absolute nadir of Katherina’s life, which was already filled with unspeakably tragic losses and pains. It is no wonder Princess Mary would one day rejoice in the judicial murder of the woman whom she saw as the well-spring of her mother’s agonies.