Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hey Henry! That’s no way to say ‘goodbye.’

by Judith Arnopp

Henry VIII
Although Henry VIII is famous for abandoning, beheading, divorcing his wives it seems he didn’t enjoy ‘goodbyes.’ Each one of his relationships ended suddenly, without discussion.  In most instances he simply crept out of the palace, mounted his horse and rode away. End of relationship. End of marriage.

His battle for a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his wife of almost twenty years, was a long protracted affair, ending with Henry breaking his ties with the Pope and the excommunication of England from the Roman Church. By the time he finally lost patience and removed himself from the marriage, he was already committed to Anne Boleyn.

For months the king and his two ‘wives’ had lived in a sort of Ménage à trois with Katherine trailing in the wake of Henry and Anne. But in June 1531 Henry and Anne rode away from Hampton court, leaving the queen behind.

For a few weeks it seems the couple visited several hunting lodges with Anne playing the part of consort. It had long been Catherine’s habit to write to Henry every few days when they were apart, enquiring after his health but this time her letter also expressed her regret that he had not bid her farewell when he departed.

Catherine of Aragon
Henry’s response was pitiless, informing her he ‘cared not for her adieux.’ Catherine’s reply illustrates admirable restraint but Henry did not bother to answer; instead she received a letter from the Council which, for the first time failed to address her as ‘Queen.

A further order demanded that she remove herself to The More in Hertfordshire, and ordered the Princess Mary to go to Richmond. Henry was not only abandoning Catherine but also their daughter, who was never allowed to see her mother again.

Henry’s marriage to Anne was very different to his first. Whereas Catherine had the royal training to ignore her husband’s romantic indiscretions, Anne had no such qualms. This made marriage to Anne a roller coaster ride of arguments, fights and reconciliations. There are plenty of marriages like this, it is no indication that they were no longer in love.

Anne Boleyn
Since their life together was peppered with disputes, when Anne fell out of favour in May 1536 she had no reason to suspect that it was any more than another tiff. But, after signing the order for her arrest, Henry refused to see or communicate with Anne again.

It is tempting to wonder if things had been otherwise she might have managed to talk her way out of it, as Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, did in the final years of his reign.

Jane Seymour has always been described as the ‘one he loved best’ yet when she died after giving him a son, the only indication of his grief is that he did not remarry straight away. While Jane was on her deathbed he had the goodness to delay his planned departure to Esher by several days. Cromwell was told that, ‘If she amend (recover), he will go, and if she amend not, he told me this day, he could not find it in his heart to tarry.” (Starkey. P. 608)

Jane Seymour
In other words, his wife’s death did not interfere with the king’s itinerary. Jane died at 8pm on the same day this message was written. We do not know if Henry was with her.

I have always questioned Henry’s love for Jane. We tend to think that because he was still in love with her (or at least had not yet found a replacement) he must have felt more for her than the others. But, suppose she had survived, who is to say he would not have tired of her too and found an excuse to creep from her bed into the arms of another?

I think we are safe to assume Henry had no love for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. From the moment he saw her, before the marriage had even taken place, Henry wanted an end to it. He raged to his councillors that she did not please him but, unable to free himself from the political ties of the union, he was trapped, like a caged lion. The wedding went ahead and the honeymoon night was a disaster.

All over London jousts and celebrations were under way but the king was far from happy. He had set his heart on another and was already sneaking out after dark to visit Catherine Howard at the home of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester in Southwark.

Anne of Cleves
David Starkey in Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII says, ‘Anne herself probably understood little of the political storm which raged round her and of which she was the all-too passive cause. She was shrewd enough, however, to notice the King’s attentions to Catherine Howard, and, on 20th June, complained vigorously about them to the Cleves agent in London, Karl Harst. Two days later, she was in better spirits, because Henry had spoken to her kindly. It was the last time she saw him as her husband.”

Ordered to leave the court and take up residence at Richmond Palace, Anne did not learn of her fate until July when she was informed of the king’s decision to reconsider the marriage. Although she was often at court after the annulment, Anne never saw Henry again until the separation was legally finalised.

Catherine Howard, as we all know, was accused of adultery and treason. As sad as it is, the charges were probably just. The legend of the little queen running screaming for Henry along the corridors of Hampton court sound as if they are straight from the pages of fiction, and they probably are. But the image is a powerful one, indicative of her terror, her knowledge of what is about to come to pass. For Catherine, coming at the end of a long line of dispatched spouses, can have held little doubt as to her fate. But, if the story is true, it was a futile attempt to reason with the king for, before she was even aware that anything was wrong, Henry had already fled.

Katherine Howard
Hurt and humiliated, the king lost no time in making himself scarce. On the 5th of November, on the pretext of hunting, he ‘dined in a little pleasure-house in one of the parks around Hampton Court. Then, under the cover of night, he left secretly for London.’ (Starkey, p. 671)

Catherine never saw him again.

Afterwards the Spanish ambassador described Henry as suffering ‘greater sorrow and regret at her loss than at the faults, loss of divorce of his preceding wives.’ (Starkey. P. 685) The picture of an aging broken king mourning the loss of his faithless child bride is touching but, it has to be said, his sorrow was more likely to have been of the self-pitying kind than remorse for Catherine.

Katherine Parr
Katherine Parr, Henry’s last queen, was a scholar and a reformer, publishing books and entering the male world of theological debate, just as Anne Boleyn had before her. This won the queen enemies, the conservative faction resenting her influence over the aging and increasingly disabled king.

Just as with several of her predecessors, moves were made to bring her down and the task promised not to be difficult. It is possible that Katherine was just too clever for the king’s liking, perhaps she bested him with her arguments, perhaps she reminded him just a little too much of Anne Boleyn. Whatever the reason, after several years of marriage, Henry came to resent her unfeminine attitude, providing her enemies with the opportunity they needed.

When Henry complained, in Gardiner’s presence, of the nature of the queen’s conversation Gardiner lost no time in convincing the king to agree to a coup against her. Her women and her books were to be seized and the queen arrested and sent to the Tower.

Luckily for Katherine, one of Henry’s physicians got wind of the plan and tipped her off. Katherine went straight to the king but had the sense not to remonstrate with him outright. Instead, when the subject turned to religion, she pretended ignorance, preferring to ‘defer my judgement in this, and all other cases, to our Majesty’s wisdom, as my only anchor Supreme Head and Governor her in earth, next under God.’ (Starkey. P.763)

When he looked doubtful as to her honesty, she went on to claim that she had only ever disputed with Henry to take his mind from his pain, and to try to learn from his own great wisdom. His ego salved and his faith in women restored, Henry and Katherine kissed and made up.

It must have been a triumphant moment for Katherine when Wriothesley arrived the next day to arrest her.  The king and queen were walking in the garden and when Wriothesley arrived with the guard, Henry furiously berated him, calling him a knave and a beast. Wriothesley fled the royal presence.

On this occasion Henry’s wife managed to escape the ultimate penalty for displeasing the king but, as Henry’s health began to deteriorate further, the couple spent more and more time apart.

Henry spent his last Christmas in London, while Katherine was at Greenwich. He died in January 1547, probably without saying ‘Goodbye.’


Judith Arnopp is the author of historical fiction. Her books include:

   The Kiss of the Concubine

TheWinchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII

The Song of Heledd

For more information about Judith’s books please visit her webpage.

 All available on kindle or in paperback

Further reading.

David Starkey, Six Wives: the queens of Henry VIII
Alison Weir, Henry VIII King and Court
Joanna Denny, Katherine Howard,
Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
David Loades, Henry VIII and his Queens


  1. Good summary, if not terribly surprising given Henry's character.

  2. Wonderful summary of Henry and his wives!
    I read The Forrest Dwellers and thought it was wonderful. So very realistic. And I learned a lot of history, too. I often look up things as I read and your book provided a lot of "fodder" for my searches! You are a wonderful writer.

  3. It doesn't surprise me that he didn't have the guts to face his wives when he was about to get rid of them. When you think about it, each time he seems to have made the decision and given someone else the dirty work of arranging it.

  4. Nicely summed up. What a monster he was!

  5. Thank you for the lovely comments and encouragement. I am so glad you enjoyed The Forest Dwellers, Michele. I really enjoyed writing it, the characters just swept me away and wrote their own story :)
    Funnily enough, the more I research Henry the more I come to pity him. That isn't much comfort for his victims though, I am sure :)


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