The tragic end of some Januaries for Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon

In various years of the 16th century, the end of January was quite a tragic time for Henry VIII’s two wives – Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon. It was a time of unhappiness, distress, loss, and tragedy for both Catherine and Anne. The end of January 1535 was the official end of Catherine’s life on earth as she was buried, and it also a premise for the further destruction of Anne.

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29th January 1536 – Anne Boleyn’s last miscarriage

Anne suffered a miscarriage on the day when Catherine of Aragon was buried at Peterborough Abbey and just in several days after the jousting incident when Henry had been thrown off his horse and had almost died. This bizarre coincidence was interpreted by the enemies of the Boleyn faction as one having a symbolical meaning: Anne’s miscarriage on the day of Catherine’s burial was a sign from God that Anne was a usurper, not Henry’s true wife.

It was said by Anne’s enemies that she miscarried “a male child which she had not borne 3½ months”, which at times is called a deformed foetus or “shapeless mass of flesh”. Was it really a deformed male child, or is it only the product of a rumour mill and the intrigues of her sworn enemies?

(c) National Trust, Calke Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In his book De origine ac progressu schismatis Anglicani (Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism as translated to English), Nicolas Sander wrote about 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 wrote 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.”

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Edward Hall, the infamous Tudor Chronic, wrote about 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 (he was in London in 1536, in the service of the French Ambassador, Antoine de Castelnau), wrote in his poem Poème sur la Mort d’Anne Boleyn (Poem on the Death of Anne Boleyn as translated to English), de Carles 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.”

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The same poems was translated in 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 compelling and unbiased contemporary evidence of Anne giving birth to a monster, although it was used by her enemies against her as proof of her alleged adultery and her abhorrent sexual encounters, or her involvement in witchcraft.

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Only Nicholas Sander, a Catholic recusant writing in Elizabeth I’s reign, stated that Anne had miscarried a deformed child, but his words cannot be trusted because was personally biased and too interested in slandering the name of Anne Boleyn and in creating tales about her which were downright lies. Moreover, he wasn’t Anne’s contemporary because he was very young in 1536, and, thus, he couldn’t witness and record the events of that day.

Very few contemporary historians think that Anne Boleyn did really miscarry a deformed foetus. Yet, Retha Warnicke’s argues in her book “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn” 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, her colleagues don’t share her opinion of Anne possibly miscarrying a deformed child, and neither do I.

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Anne’s last failure might have become the last straw in Henry’s patience and might have made him think of finding a way out of their marriage. However, the miscarriage didn’t doom Anne to death on the block, and I personally don’t think that Henry began to plan her death immediately after the tragedy. The conspiracy against Anne wasn’t woven yet by her enemies, but the king did begin to doubt that he would ever have a male heir by Anne.

In his book “Life and death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives writes what I generally 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.”

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29th January 1510 – Catherine of Argon’s burial

Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife discarded by her husband because of her categorical refusal to submit to her husband’s will and accept an annulment of her marriage to Henry, was laid to eternal rest on at Peterborough Abbey (nowadays, it is Peterborough Cathedral).

Henry remained at Greenwich, and Mary, Catherine’s only surviving daughter, was forbidden by the king to attend the funeral. Eustace Chapuys, the queen’s staunch supporter and ally, didn’t attend either. Catherine was buried with the ceremony befitting a Dowager Princess of Wales, not a Queen of England, although she considered herself the rightful queen until her dying breath.

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The king was trying to propel the idea of Catherine never being his true wife even on her funeral. During the ceremony, three masses by three bishops 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 fabrication and a wicked 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.”

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Eustace Chapuys wrote in one of his letters to the emperor about Catherine’s burial:

“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!! Perhaps one of these days they will repair their fault, and erect a suitable monument or institute some pious foundation to her memory in some suitable spot or other.”

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The railings behind Catherine’s tomb are decorated with large gold letters naming her ‘Katherine the Queen’ and, thus, verbally defying Henry’s statement that she wasn’t Queen of England.

There are few days when Catherine’s tomb isn’t decorated with flowers or pomegranates. Catherine was loved by the English people in her lifetime, and today a wooden plaque on Catherine of Aragon’s tomb describes her as:

“A queen cherished by the English people for her loyalty, piety, courage and compassion.”

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31th January 1510 – Catherine of Argon’s first premature labor with a tragic outcome

On 31th January 1510, Catherine went into premature labour, 33 weeks after her marriage to Henry. To the utmost grief of Henry and the whole country, Catherine birthed a stillborn daughter. The tragedy was kept a secret, and very few people, except for Catherine herself, Henry, the queen’s confessor, and several Spaniards knew the truth.

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Diego Fernandez, Catherine’s chancellor, wrote to Ferdinand of Aragon, Catherine’s father, only four months later, that

“the affair was so secret that no one knew it until now except the King my lord, two Spanish women, a physician and I”.

Catherine was convalescing in her chambers and grieving for the loss of her first child, but her belly was still round. The above led her physician to conclude that“the Queen remained pregnant of another child and it was believed”.Devastated by the loss of their first daughter, Henry and Catherine clung to hope that the second child was still alive, and they were so optimistic that the king ordered to refurbish the royal nursery.

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For a few months, Catherine and Henry were overwhelmed with happiness: the king was enthusiastic about the prospect of having a son and an heir, and the queen wanted to give birth to a healthy child and prove everything she was capable of bearing children despite her first failure.

Catherine entered her conferment in March 1510, but the couples’ hopes dissipated as no birth happened and the swelling of Catherine’s abdomen decreased. She wasn’t pregnant, and she carried only one child that was lost in her miscarriage. It was a time of loss and embarrassment for the young queen.

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Remarkably, there is a sad parallel in Catherine’s pregnancies: her first pregnancy in 1510 ended in the birth of a stillborn daughter, and her last known pregnancy in 1518 had the same outcome.

The end of some Januaries was a tragic period for Anne and Catherine.