Death comes into people’s lives without any rules, inconsiderately and irrationally as a thief. It brings pain and suffering when one we love departs. The end of January 1536 was a tragic time, marked by catastrophic loss and sadness, for both Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon. There is an old saying that trouble never comes singly, and it seems that it is applicable to these two women.
Anne Boleyn’s Last Miscarriage
On the 29th of January, 1536, the goddess of death sauntered into Anne Boleyn’s rooms, causing her to suffer a miscarriage. Death of the queen’s son came uninvited and unexpected.
Unfortunately, the tragedy struck on the day of Catherine of Aragon’s interment at Peterborough Abbey, and several days after the jousting incident when Henry had been thrown off his horse and almost died. This bizarre coincidence was interpreted by Anne’s enemies as a sign from God that Anne was a usurper, not Henry’s true wife.
With a malicious joy, Anne’s enemies said that she had miscarried “a male child which she had not borne 3½ months”. They enthusiastically claimed that Anne’s deformed foetus had represented itself “shapeless mass of flesh”. But was it really a deformed male child?
In his book “De origine ac progressu schismatis Anglicani” (Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism as translated to English), Nicolas Sander wrote of Anne’s last miscarriage:
“The time had now come when Anne was to be again a mother, but she brought forth only a shapeless mass of flesh.”
Several weeks after the tragedy, Eustace Chapuys sent a letter to the emperor:
“On the day of the interment [Catherine of Aragon’s burial] the Concubine had an abortion which seemed to be a male child which she had not borne 3½ months, at which the King has shown great distress. The said concubine wished to lay the blame on the duke of Norfolk, whom she hates, saying he frightened her by bringing the news of the fall the King had six days before. But it is well known that is not the cause, for it was told her in a way that she should not be alarmed or attach much importance to it. Some think it was owing to her own incapacity to bear children, others to a fear that the King would treat her like the late Queen, especially considering the treatment shown to a lady of the Court, named Mistress Semel, to whom, as many say, he has lately made great presents.”
Edward Hall, the famous Tudor Chronicler, wrote of Anne’s miscarriage:
“And in February folowyng was quene Anne brought a bedde of a childe before her tyme, whiche was born dead.”
Lancelot de Carles – a French scholar, poet, and diplomat – was in London in 1536, in the service of the French Ambassador, Antoine de Castelnau. In his poem “Poème sur la Mort d’Anne Boleyn” (Poem on the Death of Anne Boleyn as translated to English), he wrote:
“Quant la Royne eut la nouvelle entendue,
Peu s ’en faillut qu’el ne cheut estendue
Morte d’ennuy, tant que fort offensa
Son ventre plain et son fruict advan?a,
Et enfanta ung beau filz avant terme,
Qui nasquit mort dont versa mainte lerme.”
This poem was translated into English by Susan Walters Schmid:
“When the Queen heard the news
She very nearly collapsed
Dead of worry, so much so that she wounded
Her full belly and growing baby,
And she gave birth to a fine boy prematurely,
Whose stillbirth caused her tears to flow.”
There is absolutely no proof that Anne gave birth to a monster. The lies about her were used by her enemies as proof of her alleged illicit affairs or of her involvement in witchcraft.
Only Nicholas Sander stated that Anne had miscarried a deformed child. Sander was an English Catholic priest and polemicist, who was especially well known during Elizabeth I’s reign as a Catholic recusant. Given his background, his words cannot be trusted, for he was personally biased towards the very woman who had driven King Henry from the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, this man was not Anne’s contemporary: he had been born c. 1530, and, thus, he was a toddler in 1536, so he couldn’t witness the events of this day.
Few modern historians believe that Anne’s foetus had been deformed. Yet, in her book “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn”, Retha Warnicke argues that the foetus ‘was born deformed, a tragedy constituting the sole reason for the king’s setting in motion the process that led to Anne’s execution.’ However, other historians don’t share her opinion, and neither do I.
Anne’s last miscarriage might have become the last straw for Henry, and, most likely, it doomed Anne’s marriage to the King of England. Nevertheless, I personally don’t think that Henry began to plan her death immediately after the tragedy. Most likely, he came to believe that he would never have a male heir by Anne, and he also doubted the validity of their union.
In his book “Life and death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives writes what I support:
“The miscarriage of 29 January was neither Anne’s last chance nor the point at which Jane Seymour replaced Anne in Henry’s priorities.”
Catherine of Argon’s burial
The deities of mortality had appeared at Kimbolton Castle, uninvited, and sucked the life out of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, on the 7th of January, 1536. Unfortunately, she had passed away not in some splendid palace surrounded by her loved ones, but in a dark, cold castle, abandoned by her spouse, King Henry, and only with her most faithful staff in attendance.
Catherine was laid to eternal rest on the 29th of January, 1536, at Peterborough Abbey. Nowadays, it is Peterborough Cathedral. The King of England remained at Greenwich, and the Lady Mary Tudor, Catherine’s only surviving child, was forbidden from attending the funeral; Eustace Chapuys, the queen’s staunch supporter and ally, didn’t attend either. Catherine was given a funeral ceremony befitting her position as Dowager Princess of Wales, not Queen of England, although she saw herself as the rightful queen until her last day.
During the ceremony, three masses were performed in the cathedral: the first mass by the Bishop of Rochester, the second by the Bishop of Ely, and the third by the Bishop of Lincoln. The Bishop of Rochester stated in his sermon that “in the hour of death she acknowledged she had not been Queen of England”, which was a wretched lie.
In her book “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, Alison Weir described Catherine’s funeral:
“The Chief mourners were lady Bedingfield, the young Duchess of Suffolk and the Countess of Cumberland, Eleanor Brandon, the king’s niece…The funeral sermon was preached by John Hilsey, who had replaced Fisher as Bishop of Rochester; he was a staunch King’s man, and alleged, against all truth, that Katherine had acknowledged at the end that she had never been the rightful Queen of England. Then the woman who had in reality stoutly maintained to the last that she had been the King’s wife was buried as Dowager Princess of Wales in the abbey church.”
Eustace Chapuys wrote of Catherine’s burial to the emperor:
“On that very day the good queen of England’s burial took place, which was attended by four bishops and as many abbots, besides the ladies mentioned in my preceding despatches. No other person of rank or name was present except the comptroller of the Royal household. The place where she lies in the cathedral church is a good way from the high altar, and in a less honourable position than that of several bishops buried in the same church. Had she not been a dowager Princess, as they have held her both in life and death, but simply a baroness, they could not have chosen a less distinguished place of rest for her, as the people who understand this sort of thing tell me. Such have been the wonderful display and incredible magnificence which these people gave me to understand would be lavished in honour and memory of one whose great virtues and royal relationship certainly entitled her to uncommon honours!”
The railings behind Catherine’s tomb are decorated with large gold letters, naming he “KATHARINE QUEEN OF ENGLAND”.
These words do defy the king’s statement that she had never been his true wife. Usually, Catherine’s tomb is decorated with flowers or pomegranates. Catherine was loved by the English people in her lifetime, and today a wooden plaque on her tomb describes her as:
“A queen cherished by the English people for her loyalty, piety, courage and compassion.”