Saturday, October 24, 2009

On This Day in Tudor History:

On October 24, 1537, Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII, died of puerperal (or childbed) fever. She was 29 years old and had just given Henry the one thing he wanted most in the world: a legitimate, living, male child, the future King Edward VI.

I find Jane Seymour to have been a fascinating creature -not in the same way I admire Anne Boleyn - but as one of the greatest contradictions in history.

She became a maid-of-honour in 1532 to Queen Katherine and then famously served Queen Anne Boleyn - putting her in the path of the king. The first report of Henry VIII's interest in Jane Seymour was in February 1536. Pale, blonde, quiet and malleable, Jane Seymour was everything that Anne was not.

She was not educated as highly as King Henry's previous wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. She could read and write a little but was much better at needlework and household management. Because of this, Jane expressed her opinions to Henry far less often and was not obstinate and argumentative like the ladies who came before her. However, when she did venture to talk to Henry about something, it was about his closing (and looting) of the religious houses and to request pardons for participants in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion. At this, Henry is said to have reminded her of the fate her predecessor met with when she "meddled in his affairs."

After her death at Hampton Court Palace, Henry wore black for the next three months and did not remarry for three years, although marriage negotiations were tentatively started soon after her death. She was Henry's favourite wife because, historians have speculated, she gave birth to a male heir. When he died in 1547, Henry was buried beside her in St. George's Chapel at Windsor.

The reason I find her such a contradiction is because she has successfully retained the image of wholesome, sweet, complaisant queen these 500 years despite doing EXACTLY what Anne Boleyn did, only better! But it's Anne who is called the conniving concubine, the whore. There has always been extensive writing and talk about the Boleyns being grasping social-climbers, but the Seymours were NO BETTER! BOTH of Jane's brothers were eventually executed for treason after using her memory to build fortunes and careers.

As for sweet Jane herself, when Henry first offered his affections, she certainly didn't discourage him out of deference to her queen or respect for marriage vows. She learned from Anne that she didn't have to be JUST a mistress and that a lady-in-waiting could usurp a queen and she did just that. There is every evidence that she knew exactly what her relationship with Henry was doing to his marriage. Besides the realization dawning on Henry that Anne, like Katherine, would not provide him with a living son, Anne's jealousy of Jane was causing many a row between them.

This is not to say that Henry wouldn't have found a way to be rid of Anne had he not fallen for Jane. But without a woman waiting in the wings, would Henry have chosen execution? After all, the debacle with Katherine was still fresh in his mind and he didn't want to have to wait to marry Jane and get a male heir while he argued and went to court with Anne. What could be faster and less hassle than beheading a woman one day and getting engaged the next!?

Jane's kindness to the Lady Mary (Katherine's daughter) and the Lady Elizabeth (Anne's daughter) is the one area in which I can never fault her. Unlike Anne, Jane was a loving, devoted step-mother no matter whose child. She made Henry settle into a somewhat normal family life and give his daughters the attention they deserved. In this way, Jane was as advertised.

But I despise the notion (and written history) that Jane was a witless simp who happened to be in the right place at the right time. She didn't need a formal education to know that she had the power - and she used it. This reputedly innocent woman and her family certainly had a part in the downfall and death of Anne, yet somehow escaped the accusing eye of history.

I took this photo, to the right, just outside the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. The plaque combines Henry VIII's coat of arms with Jane Seymour's, held by angels under a crown with gold Tudor roses and Henry's motto across the bottom. Just above the motto and on either side of the shield are their initials "H" and "I" entwined in lovers' knots. Click on the photo to enlarge to see the initials. (The I is for Iana or Iohanna - Jane in Latin) There is also a plaque inside the chapel that claims Jane's heart was buried there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Help Needed at Anne Boleyn's Birthplace

This is yet another one of those times that I wish I lived in the UK...

Gardeners, greeters and guides are needed as volunteers at one of Norfolk's most recognisable estates. Blickling Hall, near Aylsham, is looking to recruit between 20 and 30 helpers to run the mansion and grounds when the house reopens next year after the winter break. There are already more than 350 people giving their time for free at the National Trust property but thanks to the renewed interest in all things Tudor and Anne Boleyn, the estate needs more like 400. Blickling is believed to be the birthplace of Henry VIII's second wife.

They are looking for everything from house stewards, meet and greeters, book shop volunteers, RAF museum, restaurant, shop, even administration help. There are also jobs to be taken on the 5000 acres, from gardening to tree felling, and many volunteers will often adopt more than one role to keep the work varied.

Workers can decide for themselves how often they help out - whether for days at a time or just for a few hours - although they are asked to do a minimum of four hours a week or fortnight.

Blickling sees more than 110,000 visitors a year. Planning a visit? The house closes at the end of October until February, but the gardens are open throughout the year, as is the restaurant. Beginning next year, the grounds will be open seven days a week, with the house open five days a week.

The Vatican gets Revenge on Henry VIII!!!

And once again, a woman is at the center of the controversy between the Pope and the Church of England!

Following representations from English Anglicans alarmed by the prospect of women bishops, the Catholic Church has offered them the ultimate remedy. In an extraordinary move and with no forewarning, Pope Benedict XVI has created a structure that will allow conservative male clergy and their congregations to remain Anglican in all but name under female-free Vatican protection.

The details of the new structure have not yet been announced, but presumably the erstwhile Anglicans will be allowed to continue using Anglican worship services in Anglican-style parishes while being officially members of the Catholic Church. Pretty sneaky, huh?

For some time, married Anglican priests have been accepted by Rome while retaining their wives, but only on a case-by-case basis. (Ahem, Cardinal Wolsey, anyone?) Apart from their married status, they have had to forgo the culture of Anglicanism and embrace the fullness of Catholic polity. The new structure seems to offer conservatives the best of both worlds from their perspective.

This is not by any means the first split in the Anglican Church, a church created as a separate entity by Henry VIII in 1534 when an earlier Pope refused to give him permission to divorce Katherine of Aragon. There have been numerous others, caused by disputes over the relationship between church and state. But this one, just like the original split, can be attributed to women.

King Henry wanted his divorce so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Centuries later women bishops are fast becoming a reality for the worldwide Anglican Church. Twenty years after the first woman bishop was consecrated in the US, and 65 years after the first woman priest was ordained by the Bishop of Hong Kong, there are now 24 women bishops around the world, including two in Australia: Kay Goldsworthy in Perth and Bishop Barbara Darling in Melbourne.

A vociferous minority protests that women are not acceptable as leaders in the Anglican Church. This is ironic, given that a woman - Queen Elizabeth II - has been Supreme Governor of the Church of England for the past 57 years, and her ancestor Elizabeth I - Anne Boleyn's daughter - was the monarch who entrenched a reformed Church of England.

Despite these female leaders, some argue that a few verses in the Bible deny women authority over men; these verses were used for centuries to prevent women from having an equal role in society, not just in the church. (Other verses, including the example of Jesus himself, support the full equality of women.)

Those bishops and clergy who petitioned Rome for this indulgence are no doubt mostly conservative clergy who have longed for the security of the Catholic Church for aesthetic, theological and psychological reasons. They want to belong to what they see as the ''true'' church, but either their married state or their sentimental attachment to cultural Anglicanism has held them back. Such longings well pre-date the emergence of women clergy in the Anglican Church.

From the Roman perspective, it is a means of demonstrating to its own restive nuns and lay women that there is no hope of female equality in the foreseeable future. It may, however, lead to some heart-searching for Catholics concerned about the impact that priestly celibacy continues to have on their Church. How can it be unacceptable for home-grown clergy to marry but OK for the imports from Anglicanism?

It will be interesting to see how many Anglican clergy and laity actually go over to Rome and how long they stay. The Anglican Church has a much more democratic polity than the Catholic Church. Anglican vicars and parishes have a significant degree of autonomy and Anglicans have decision-making powers through diocesan and national synods. They participate in the election of their bishops. They help decide how church finances will be spent. Will they adjust easily to the complete obedience required by Papal autocracy? Again.

It's 1533 all over again...

Friday, October 9, 2009

On This Day in Tudor History:

On October 9, 1514, Mary Tudor (sister of King Henry VIII) marries King Louis XII of France. This marriage set in motion several important relationships in Tudor History.

Mary Tudor, known as the most beautiful princess in Europe of the time, was very close to her brother, Henry, when they were children—he named his daughter and the warship, Mary Rose, in her honour.

Cardinal Wolsey negotiated a peace treaty with France, and at the age of 18, Mary was married 52-year-old King Louis XII at Abbeville.

Despite two previous marriages, the king had no living sons and sought to produce an heir; but Louis died less than three months after the wedding, reputedly worn out by his exertions in the bedchamber! Their union produced no children. Following Louis's death, King Francis I made attempts to arrange a second marriage for the beautiful widow. Mary was almost certainly already in love with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. When her brother sent Brandon to bring her back to England, he made Brandon promise not to propose to her because he wanted to marry her off to his advantage again. It didn't work: the couple went against Henry's orders and married in secret. Although this is treason, Wolsey intervened on their behalf and got them off with a heavy fine.

Mary Tudor's first marriage also put into motion the famous French education of Anne Boleyn. Anne was sent to France to attend Mary as one of her Maids of Honor and stayed to serve at the court of King Francis and Queen Claude when the Dowager Queen returned to England.

It has often been stated that it was the charms learned in France with which Anne was able to beguile King Henry.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Award Winning New Book on the Tudors!

Not long ago, I'd read that publishing companies had to put an embargo on historical fiction involving the Tudors. With the success of Philippa Gregory, authors the world over flooded the market with their spin on Henry and his six wives. Despite the renewed interest in the Tudors, publishers felt that there just weren't enough interested readers to support the number of books being written.

Taking this into consideration, it is even more of an accomplishment that a book on the Tudors has just won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for fiction. The Man Booker Prize, first awarded in 1969, promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year and this year's prize went to Hilary Mantel for her novel "Wolf Hall."

In the same way that "A Man For All Seasons" told the Tudor story by looking at Sir Thomas More's life, "Wolf Hall" gives us yet another view of King Henry VIII's "Great Matter"; this time by focusing on Thomas Cromwell. The story takes us through Cromwell's humble upbringing, abuse at the hands of his father, his rise as Cardinal Wolsey's protege, and eventual stardom at court as King Henry VIII's right-hand man. Mantel does not take us through his fall, as the novel closes with the execution of Henry's prior right-hand man, Sir Thomas More.

I have not yet read "Wolf Hall," so I am not trying to give it a favorable review or a recommendation with this post. I do, however, look forward to reading the book after the positive review in the NY Times and now the Man Booker Prize. What's clear is that although the story may be worn a bit thin, Mantel has found an award-winning new way of telling it.

More good news for my fellow voracious Tudor readers: Hilary Mantel is currently working on the sequel. (Although it took her five years to write Wolf Hall - so we must be patient!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On This Day in Tudor History:

On October 6, 1542, Sir Thomas Wyatt died around the age of 39.

Outlining Wyatt's fascinating life and career is a task to which I am not equal tonight. I will, however, state that it was my personal belief that although Thomas certainly seemed to have nursed a fairly intense crush on Anne Boleyn, I do not believe that were was ever more than a flirtation and that it was primarily one-sided. Despite it being one of my favorite and one of the sexiest scenes in episode one of Season 2 of The Tudors, I do not believe there was ever a physical relationship between Wyatt and Anne. But Wyatt's passion for her certainly inspired some amazing writing.

My favorite Wyatt poem, believed to be written about Anne Boleyn:


Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind!
But as for me, alas, I may no more;
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that furthest come behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow; I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck round about,
"Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame."