Monday, August 04, 2008

Question from Nikki - Henry VIII's early thoughts of divorce

i was reading the bio of henry viii on it states that henry was considering divorce in 1514 as catharine had no surviving children. in 1516 mary was born and the divorce was "postponed."

is there any truth to that?


Elizabeth M. said...

Henry may have entertained fleeting thoughts of divorce in the emotional aftermath of losing another child. In 1511, Queen Katherine had delivered a healthy son--the New Years' Boy. It was not her fault he died after less than six weeks of age. A boy born in 1513 who died shortly after birth and a stillborn girl born in 1514, followed before the birth of Princess Mary in 1516. My own thought is that thoughts of at least an annulment began to take root after the birth of Princess Mary. For even though King Henry put a brave face on it--"If it was a girl this time, we are both young enough, the boys will follow." Katherine was 30 at the time of Mary's birth, and time was running out for her to produce a strong male heir. With the birth of another girl in 1518 who was either stillborn or died shortly after birth, when Katherine was nearly 32, probably put the seal on it. However, King Henry could not act indiscriminately. His wife was the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. King Henry could ill afford to alienate him. In addition, he was tip-toeing lightly in his relationship with France and King Francis I. He did not want to alienate either of them, though he eventually did. His glorious meeting with King Francis at the 1520 Field of the Cloth of Gold produced a lot of spectacle and empty rhetoric about friendship between France and England, yet by 1522, Henry had joined the Empire in war against France. His young daughter Mary went from being a prospective bride to the French Dauphin Francis to the betrothed of Emperor Charles himself, despite their 16 year age difference.
There was also a dearth of suitable royal brides on the market. The Emperor Charles had four sisters--Eleanor, married to Manual I of Portugal; Isabella, married to the King of Denmark; Mary, wife of the King of Bavaria and Hungary; and Catherine, who married John III of Portugal III in 1525 but who had been kept as a companion to her mentally ailing mother, Juana of Castile, until then. King Francis of France only had daughters who were toddlers at the time of the last stillbirth of Katherine of Aragon. There were Scandinavian and German princesses, but they were not Catholic countries, and at the time there was no reason for King Henry to upset the Pope by taking a non-Catholic wife. In later years, he only wed Anne of Cleves, a Protestant, for political reasons. At the time he began thinking of a divorce, with such a sparcity of suitable royal brides available on the continent, he kind of sat on his hands, playing around with various betrothals for Princess Mary as a means to an end--getting an heir--male--to the throne, even it was a grandson. The along came Anne Boleyn. He fell head over heels in love, and hoped a divorce, or at least an annulment would be possible. His wife had not been pregnant for several years, Anne was young and hopefully fruitul. Though it wasn't the coolest thing for a King to marry a subject, there was ample precedent--his grandmother Elizabeth Wydeville, wife of Edward IV, and his great-aunt, Anne Neville, wife of Richard III, had been commoners.
Unfortunately, for Henry, he didn't count on his wife's tenacity in sticking to her claims as his lawful wife, and Charles V's forces sacking Rome and taking the Pope prisoner threw a monkey wrench into the annulment plan, as well.
It can be safe to say that King Henry probably almost certainly began thinking of ending his marriage after the death of the girl born in 1518, and maybe as early as 1516, at the disappointment of Princess Mary's gender. Whether he did as early as 1514 is debatable. Katherine had produced a seemingly healthy son and had two other ill-fated births. This was not an unusual track record in that day and age. But I would say after Mary's birth, when Katherine was 30, and definitely after 1518. But there were not many pickings within the royal houses of Europe to provide a replacement, Henry had a vacillating, love-hate relationship with both France and the Empire, and really did not make up his mind, in my opinion, until there was a spur to do so, and that spur came in the form of the polished, intelligent, intriguing form of Anne Boleyn.

Anonymous said...

well, i just read "the six wives of King Henry VIII" by alison weir, (and by the way i highly recommend for any tudor lover!) and i don't think henry was seriously considering divorcing Katharine until the defiance of Anne Boleyn

Anonymous said...

i do not think there is any truth to that at all.

Anonymous said...

What is very important to remember about Henry, is that he believed anything as the fancy took him. He could truly advocate one course one day and truly oppose it the next. There were no constants for him, not even in his affections. This is, after all, the man who created a new religion to divorce his wife of twenty years, only to behead the woman he did that for on false allegations, in order to marry yet another woman. Coincidentally Anne and Katherine, the wives he beheaded, were cousins who both just happened to commit adultery. Ironic, to say the least. Either way, this was not a man devoted to any one person or cause. If you need another example, look no further than Cardinal Wolsey. I would not be surprised in the least if he considered divorce long before he made it happen; he had certainly been studying Leviticus long before he used that book as an excuse to rid himself of Catherine.

Foose said...

I understand that a major reason for Henry's disaffection with Catherine at this relatively early stage was anger with her father, Ferdinand, who had successfully coaxed Henry several times into sending English armies to the Continent, allegedly as part of a grand anti-French alliance in which England would share in a major amount of the territorial spoils. However, what usually wound up being protected were Ferdinand's interests, with England and Henry getting very little out of the deal.

Catherine was actively involved as Ferdinand's official ambassador in England, although I doubt she actively attempted to deceive Henry; she probably honestly thought that what was good for Spain was good for England. This was imprudent, as she may have become increasingly identified in Henry's mind with her father and he may have suspected her ultimate loyalty to England and himself.

If the rumors were true at this time that Henry was planning to repudiate Catherine, it may have been motivated by Henry's desire for "revenge" against both her and Ferdinand, a desire reinforced by her apparent inability to deliver a son who would live.

Ferdinand died in 1516, a few weeks before Princess Mary was born; the two events, taken together, would have relieved a lot of the tension and put Catherine back in Henry's good graces -- postponing his ideas about divorcing her for a few years.