Poor Henry VIII

The 30 November is St. Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Scotland, and on this day in 1529 King Henry VIII was metaphorically kilt.

(brief pause for applause)

According to the Spanish ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, on this day Henry went to have dinner with his wife, who was still recognised 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 behaviour was understandable, since everyone in the court agreed with him that their marriage would be found to be unlawful, and she had never been anything but his sister-in-law. Katherina lined up his arguments, broadsided them, and sank them with all hands on board, leaving him dumbfounded and fuming. She finished her annihilation of his assertion that they were not married by telling him that “for each doctor or lawyer who might decide in your favour and against me, I shall find a thousand to declare that the marriage is good and indissoluble”.

Henry VIII was gobsmacked.

For twenty years his gentle wife had seemed to defer to his wisdom, so her sudden intellectual victory over him must blown his mind. Henry was thus goaded by his hurt pride into making a rash threat (that he would later make good on), 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.

Having been cut off at the knees by his first wife, the king then fled to Anne, his dignity in tatters, hoping for comfort. Sadly for him, Anne — who was witty when she was in a good mood but could verbally eviscerate those who angered her when she was in a bad mood — wasn’t inclined to sympathise. 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 he had left her alone after she first refused him and let her wed a lesser nobleman in peace. 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 fiancée 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 was trying to divorce Katherina but still have her baby him and like him, yet at the same time was making his mistress live with them and having his courtiers treat Katherina’s rival as the de facto as queen. Meanwhile, the mistress was being forced to live with Henry’s wife, whom everyone thought of as the REAL queen.  If that is not a situation to make women testy, I don’t know what is. 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 this purgatory for a spoiled man she didn’t really love.

Honestly, I’m surprised neither woman stabbed him.

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.

Henry was probably also mortified that women were besting him in arguments. 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 just that to Henry.

No wonder Henry 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. There is no evidence that she ever argued with Henry at all. The king could always outwit Jane should occasion call for it, and if she was just playing dumb to please him she did it well enough to fool him completely. He could finally feel himself to be superior to his wife in truth, rather than merely in cultural expectation.

However, while he was still in love with Anne, he needed to get back in her good graces. He actually went to her family and asked them to help him cajole her. I wonder, did she go so far as to break up with him? Because it seems as if she once more told Henry she didn’t want to marry him; what else would send him into such a panic that he risked making their quarrel public knowledge? Regrettably for Anne, she was eventually induced to forgive him and they were reconciled by New Years at the latest.

He would murder her less than six and a half years later.

One thought on “Poor Henry VIII


  1. “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 just that to Henry.”

    Problem was that:

    a) Katherine was the daughter of the most powerful and wealthiest couple in the world, who virtually funded the treasury of the Vatican and who for that reason could influence the pope not to agree with any of Henry’s shenanigans . It was not likely she would tolerate any nonsense from a lesser king than her father;

    b) Anne was too worldly and too well educated for him, which also put him in disadvantage.

    No wonder he preferred his “sweet, dense, and bland” and is buried with her as his eternal beloved.

    To a certain extent, it was exactly what made Katherine and Anne attractive that ended up being their curse.

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