Monday, December 15, 2008

Question from Shane - Infidelities and Henry VIII as a womanizer

Hey. I was wondering which men where unloyal to their wives? And which women were unfaithful. Also it says that Henry VIII was a womanizer in some books and says it was down to ill-luck that he had six wives, which version is true?


Bearded Lady said...

It depends how you define- “womanizer.” If you mean womanizer like the guy Britney Spears sings about (sorry...have the song in my head), well then yes, Henry was a bit of a tramp.

But if you judge Henry in the time period in which he lived then “womanizer” just doesn’t fit. Henry’s grew up in an age where courtly love still dominated. It was all poetry, riddles, double entendres and being faithful to your wife was just plain dull. Women were like flowers and men were expected to pick the prettiest in the garden. Sure, Henry sampled a few of the Tudor roses here and there, but for the most part he was too romantic to put real energy into more than one woman at a time. Serial monogamy was more his pace.

And you have to remember that 16th century kings were never expected to be faithful. They certainly would not sleep with any old syphilitic hag either, but a mistress or two wouldn’t hurt anyone. Very few men were faithful. Even over 200 years later, George III’s doctors believed his madness was due partly from not taking a mistress. All healthy red-blooded kings had mistresses. Yes, some went a little over board. An example would be Sir John Seymour who had an affair with his own daughter-in-law and had two children by her. And then there was Thomas Culpepper (Katherine’s beau) who had a nasty rape charge under his belt.

In contrast, Women were actually viewed as the looser sex. They were expected to be chaste, but it was believed that they had a harder time controlling their urges. Catherine Howard would be the obvious perfect example of an unfaithful wife.

Anonymous said...

The Duke of Norfolk, uncle to Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard, was unfaithful to his wife...and with his wife's washerwoman!

According to Mrs. Norfolk, she opposed so strenuously to the affair that her husband had her sat on (or maybe he sat on her himself) until she spit blood.

Womanizer...not Henry IMO, so I agree with Bearded Lady. However, a contemporary of his, Francis I, could be labeled as a 'tramp'. Seems this King of France couldn't keep his hands to himself...and other parts (blush). Compared to Francis, Henry was an innocent.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Bearded Lady's premise that men in the 16th century were not, in general, thought badly of for having a mistress. Adultery was still condemned by all religious leaders, but that seems not to have stopped most men.

The issue for men in the 16th century was not having a mistress, but rather having the mistress become a source of public scandal. In Henry's case, his affair with Anne Boleyn caused massive scandal throughout Europe. His marriage to Katherine Howard likewise ended in huge public scandal. Many men had multiple wives and multiple mistresses in the 16th century, but few had such scandalous marriages and mistresses as Henry VIII. And those scandals were amplified by his status as monarch, which was supposed to render him superior to ordinary men. Instead, he gave the appearance of being unable to control his urges in regard to women. And if he could not control those urges, how could he control a kingdom ... or so people asked. So the issue for Henry was not that he had many wives and many mistresses, but that they were so consistently the focus of public scandal.

Bearded Lady said...

Yes, that’s exactly it. Phd Historian said it much better than I did. It was the scandals and not the mistresses that were cause for censure.

And Francis I would be the perfect example of bad PR. He is another one that is misunderstood as a man whore. Yes, Francis’s love of pleasure encouraged promiscuity in his court. But just because the French court was promiscuous, does not mean that he was promiscuous. Francis loved to surround himself with beautiful things – poetry, art but most importantly beautiful women. But again, the king loved the chase and the idea of courtly love. Francis, especially in his later years, was actually very similar to Henry in that sense. Aside from the queen, he kept one maîtresse-en-titre. But the women that he chose were really poor choices. Mary Boleyn – bad choice. The Duchess of Étampes (Anne de Heilly) – really bad choice. She was never faithful to Francis. And then there was his petite bande – his bevy of beautiful hunting partners. There isn’t any proof that he slept with these women, but he was constantly surrounded by them and creeping off with them to be alone. It just didn’t look good. I am sure some people might disagree, but you could argue that Henry was just as promiscuous as Francis. He was just far more discrete.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure some people will disagree"...quoted from Bearded Lady. I guess it's no surprise that I do disagree :)

Love it how people can read the same material and come up with totally different opinions...and that's not to say that Bearded Lady is incorrect, nor myself. Such fun!!

I don't think Henry could be discrete at his court, or his wandering off into the woods not be noted somewhere by somebody. My belief is that Henry was more a husband than a lover. Sure, there were a few dallianaces, but they were always noticed, and always seemed to be more than one-night stands. I don't think Henry 'advertised' his liasons.

As for Francis of France? One-night-stands seemed to be his hobby, and he wasn't above bragging about them.

Bearded Lady said...

Tracey – ok, I will fess up. You won’t be the first person to call me out on my Francophile interpretation of history. Yes, Francis did like to brag about his conquests and yes, he did parade his women around like prized horses, but the more I read about him the more I am intrigued. You start to wonder what was just bragging and what was the REAL king.

There is no doubt that Francis truly loved Claude (not so sure about Eleanor). And he could have very easily traded in his daughter-in-law, Catherine de Medici when she proved infertile for at least 10 years. But he didn’t. In this sense, Francis respected marriage far more than Henry. And in my mind, that makes him look like husband of the year next to Henry.

Seriously now...if you were a eligible bride in the 16th century, would you take Henry over Francis? Like Christina of Denmark, I would take Henry if I had an extra head. Ha! I know that was not your point. You were saying that Henry wanted to be a husband more than Francis. But if he wanted it so badly, why did he fail so miserably at it?? People have been guessing at the answer to that question for centuries. I tend to think that it is human nature to succeed at things that we truly want...especially when it comes to marriage.

I keep hoping that some historian (maybe someone on this site?) will someday write a book comparing the two kings...kind of like how Jane Dunn compared Elizabeth and Mary. Then we could have more of these debates. :) Glenn Richardson wrote a book comparing the two but it is not a trade book.

I swear it would be a best seller. Promise. Two strong men set in the Renaissance...irresistible!

Anonymous said...

Months ago there was a brand new work that was slated for publication about Francis I. I was SO excited it was put onto my 'wish list'. Now the book has vanished. Others noticed, also, and it seems to me one of our posters was able to find the reason for it being withdrawn.

I want to say it was being written by Freida...who did a marvelous work on Catherine de Medici.

Bearded Lady...that is a wonderful read and really covers Francis, albeit the emphasis is on "Madame Serpent".

epiphany said...

I'm on the "bearded lady" team - wow, there's a term I never thought I'd use! Henry was a hopeless romantic; he craved the effusive emotion and breathlessness of being in love. Unlike his contemporaries, he never viewed marriage a as a cold-blooded diplomatic affair. He wanted, and tried, to find True Love in marriage; man did he try! Alone among his peers, I think Henry could have and would have been faithful, if 2 things happened: 1) if he had been forntunate enough to find The One - the love of his life, his soulmate; despite his marriages, I don't think he ever did, not even Anne Boleyn, and 2) if medical knowledge of the time was advanced enough to know that sex during pregnancy is safe. Most of Henry's affairs occured while his wives were pregnant, as sex during pregnancy was considered dangerous.