Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Westminster Abbey

If the pop quizzes so popular on social media were to ask: ‘Which of Henry VIII’s wives is buried at Westminster?’,  I suspect the correct answer would be the least popular.  I would have guessed Katherine Parr, a woman of untarnished reputation and an Anglican scholar. And I would be wrong.  So would scores of others who had been to the site and read the grave markers in Henry VII’s Lady Chapel where the other Tudors are interred. The last of Great Harry’s wives to die is buried at an obscure location in the nave. Her name is Anne of Cleves.


The German princess Anne of Cleves is as obscure in death as she had been in life. She is buried in the nave, and for political and security reasons, her grave is not easily accessible to the public because it is within the sanctuary.  It is said that a visitor standing on the tip of the toes can see the marker, a rather recent addition which is only slightly higher than the floor. Apparently, there was a more visible tomb which was obscured to make a place for another queen’s mother and grandmother to sit at Elizabeth II’s coronation.  Earlier photos of the site are copyrighted and licensed at a king’s ransom.

Anne of Cleves' days as Henry’s consort were short-lived. She was never crowned and Henry swore the marriage was never consummated. Apparently,  the bride was too sexually naïve to know, one way or another, or perhaps she was astute enough to keep her mouth shut. Henry exercised  no such restraint. He found his bride ill-mannered, unappealing and malodorous. He complained of sagging breasts. He is quoted as referring to her as The Flanders Mare. Considering his expanding girth and abscessed leg wound, one might find his comment coming from the pot who called the kettle black. By 1540, the historical Henry was no longer the well-proportioned, athletic Henry portrayed in the Anne of Cleves episodes of the Tudors.

The Holbein Portrait {PD US} Wikimedia 
The king had entered into the marriage contract based on a portrait he had commissioned from court portraitist Hans Holbein, but looks were not the only matter of concern.  A match with a daughter of the Duke of Cleves was meant to solidify his alliance with the German states.  Once contracted, there was no diplomatic way to avoid a wedding without making enemies of the German princes, which Henry could ill-afford. Thus, in January 1540, a disgruntled Henry went through with the ceremony, but neither Holbein nor Thomas Cromwell recovered from the king’s disfavor.  After the wedding night, Henry told Cromwell that he had not liked her much before the bedding, and afterward, he liked her not at all. In February, she was told to leave the court. In early July, the marriage was annulled for lack of consummation and allegations of a pre-contract between Anne of Cleves and the heir to the House of Guise.  By the end of the month, Cromwell had paid for his failed matchmaking with his head, and on the same day, Henry married adolescent Kathryn Howard.

Anne of Cleves stayed on in England.  The king gave her the title of the King’s Sister. She never spoke ill of Henry and had a good relationship with both of his daughters. She is open game for historical novelists because she left an empty slate. She made no enemies and kept her opinions to herself. She survived Henry and his 5th and 6th consorts and avoided confrontation during Somerset’s protectorate of Edward VI  and during the Boy King's reign.  When the powers behind the throne rejected Lady Jane Grey and declared for Mary Tudor, Anne of Cleves joined the Lady Elizabeth in the parade marking Mary I's entry into London.  When Catholicism was in vogue during Mary’s reign, Anne abjured the Protestant faith she had adopted when she came.  She ended her days at Chelsea Old House after Queen Mary became suspicious of her relationship with Elizabeth and Frances Brandon, the Duchess of Suffolk.  She lived in quietude, known for the efficient management of her estates, her pleasant temperament, and her generosity to her servants. Henry could have done much worse.

And he did.


Church of Saint Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London (Wikimedia)

Henry's fifth wife, young, vivacious and unfortunately, promiscuous Kat Howard takes us on our second visit to the Church of Saint Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. In today’s terms, she would be called a Trophy Wife. At the time of her marriage in July 1540, she was probably no more than nineteen.  Kathryn was one of a brood of several children born to Lord Edmund Howard, the financially challenged younger brother of the Duke of Norfolk. Queen Anne Boleyn’s mother had been their sister. The dead queen had been a cousin.  Kathryn’s parents were both previously married with children.  Hence, Kathryn had so many older siblings of the whole and the half that her parents did not bother to record her birth date. It is believed to have been between 1521 and 1523.

With too many daughters in the family, her parents sent her to Lambeth House to live in the household of her paternal grandmother Agnes, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, who ran an ex-officio home for high-born but impoverished surplus daughters. In that setting,the seeds of Kathryn’s fall were sown.  A visit to the Dowager’s household would have found it well-managed in every respect but one—the supervision of the teenage girls who had been deposited there.  The atmosphere portrayed in the mini-series The Tudors is reasonably accurate.  The girls lived in a dormitory and behaved as if it were a long term sleepover. It was a fine place for a robust good time, but not a training-ground for queens.

Kathryn was not a beauty nor was she especially bright, but she was a Howard and vivacious. How far her sexual dalliances as a ward of Lady Agnes Howard may have progressed is a case in controversy. The popular nominees as the girl’s despoiler include her music teacher Henry Mannock, her cousin Thomas Culpepper, and a young aristocrat, Francis Dereham, to whom she was possibly betrothed. Kathryn  might have married Dereham, had she not met the king on a visit to the Bishop of Rochester’s House. Henry's interest did not escape the attention of Kathryn's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk.

Not much later in a move probably brokered by Norfolk, she left her grandmother’s house to become a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves.  Norfolk and the Catholic faction promoted her rise in the king's affection. Already determined to rid himself of his German bride, Henry had discovered a replacement more to his sexual taste,  and the Catholic faction saw a way to get rid of both the German consort and Thomas Cromwell, who was already the subject of Henry's animus.

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk
Weeks after Anne of Cleves agreed to an annulment on terms allowing her to remain living comfortably in England, Henry married Kathryn at Oatlands.  She was likely not yet twenty and he was forty-nine, obese and diseased. But he was infatuated with his young bride.

Kat Howard's uncle and his allies who had promoted her so vigorously had not wasted any time by vetting her. Not long after her honeymoon, Kathryn renewed her relationship with her cousin Tom Culpepper, meeting with him privately in trysts arranged by her cousin-by-marriage, Lady Rochford, sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn. Kat Howard had never been especially discreet, and her new royal status did not change that.  The anti-Howard faction took notice, even if  their smitten king did not. When they had enough evidence, they presented it to the king. After ordering the queen's  arrest, he never saw her again. The men in Kathryn's past were quickly dispatched.  The queen's case presented some dicey legal issues, and  trial was delayed so Parliament could pass a law making it a capital offense for a consort to withhold knowledge of prior sexual conduct. Also, a Bill of Attainder would eliminate the need for an embarrassing trial. Soon any issues stemming from a precontract with Dereham were moot. Culpepper had confessed to a relationship with Kat while she was queen before he died. Evidence included a  letter to Culpepper before his arrest which Kathryn signed 'Yours as long as life endures,' which turned out to be not very long at all for either of the lovers. The cuckolded King of England wanted blood.

By January 1542, enemies of the Howards had accumulated enough evidence of an on-going affair with Culpepper to send both the silly queen and her lady, Jane Rochford, to the block. The two women joined their Boleyn relatives  in the pile of bones in the floor of Saint Peter ad Vincula.
Norfolk was included in the attaint, but his fall was more of a bounce.  Soon he was back in favor and appointed Lieutenant of the Armies. His eventual fall from grace had more to do with his conservative but astute decision to lift the siege on Montreuil and retreat to Calais, which embarrassed Henry during his war against the French. The behavior of his two royal nieces had little to do with it.


A slightly different likeness of Katherine Parr
Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley
Katherine Parr is buried in Saint Mary’s Church at Sudeley Castle. It is the only private English castle to have a Queen buried on its grounds.  

Young Elizabeth
After Henry VIII’s death, the dead king's son Edward VI gave Sudeley 
to his uncle Thomas at the same time he made him a baron, probably at Thomas’s older brother Edward Seymour’s suggestion. Edward, Earl of Somerset was the self-appointed Protector of the Realm.  After their marriage, Seymour and his wife, who had been granted the title Queen Dowager for Life, resided at Chelsea with Lady Jane Gray and Lady Elizabeth as their wards.

Those who remember their Tudor history will identify Sudeley as the new home of Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, who, driven by ambition that outstripped his wit, married Henry’s widow and later broke her heart by making advances to his ward, the adolescent Lady Elizabeth, later Queen of England. Both women suffered over the love triangle. Seymour's unbridled ambition later put Elizabeth's life at risk. 

By the time Katherine became pregnant, Elizabeth had been sent to Hatfield in disgrace. The Queen Dowager moved her household to Sudeley for her laying in.  Six days after delivering a daughter, she died. She had not been a young woman when she married Seymour, and although she had been widowed twice when she married the king, all of her prior marriages had been childless. She would have been 35 at the time she gave birth to Seymour’s child.  Pregnancies were dangerous under the best of circumstances, but a first pregnancy in what was then well into middle age was especially precarious.  Some of  Seymour’s vociferous enemies suspected poison. Others blamed it on the stress his dalliance with Elizabeth caused the Queen. Nevertheless, although she had been heartbroken when she caught him and Elizabeth embracing, Katherine had forgiven her husband and had renewed a warm correspondence with Elizabeth, who sent a hand-knit baby gift.

Katherine Parr was buried at Sudeley Castle in Saint Mary’s Chapel. Thomas engaged in a series of madcap maneuvers aimed at displacing his brother Edward. In the last escapade, he shot the young king's dog. Seymour was executed for treason seven months after Katherine died. He is buried in the floor at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower.

Queen Katherine's lead coffin was not identified until 1782. When it was opened, her corpse was well preserved. Drunken grave robbers ravaged the site ten years later, and what was left was buried in the tomb of one of the castle’s subsequent owners. Gothic architect George Gilbert Scott restored the site in the early 19th century and commissioned John Birnie Philip to create a tomb effigy for Katherine Parr. It seems a suitable resting place for a woman who understood the concept of duty but was never bound to silence and who appreciated beauty. She was a competent scholar and the first female English  writer to publish under her own name in England.  She was a gifted woman who deserved better of the men in her life. Her writings are available through the Women Writers Project and on Amazon.

 Photographs are from Wikimedia Commons.  Online sources are numerous. Print sources include:  
John Field, Kingdom Power and Glory, A Historical Guide to Westminster Abbey, James& James, 1996: Derek Wilson, The Tower of London, Constable/Dorset 1978:and Julia Fox, Jane Boleyn: The True Story of Lady Rochford, Ballantyne Books, New York, 2009, among others.

LINDA FETTERLY ROOT is a former major crimes prosecutor, armchair historian, and author of the historical novels in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series, and two epic novels set in the life and times of Marie Stuart. She lives in the historically rich ‘wild west’ north of Palm Springs, on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park, with her canine partners Maxx and Maya, and assorted wild things. https://www.amazon.com/Linda-Root/e/B0053DIGM8/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1473349726&sr=1-2-ent


  1. What an interesting post. Katherine Parr seems like the best of the lot! Sad that she was so unappreciated.

  2. Only two of Henry VIII's queens are buried there, right? Anne of Cleves and Jane Seymour beside the king? Am I right???

  3. Only two of Henry VIII's queens are buried there, right? Anne of Cleves and Jane Seymour beside the king? Am I right???

  4. Hi Phantom-rose. Only Jane Seymour is buried with Henry at Saint George's chapel at Windsor. Anne of Cleves is buried in a ' blink and you could miss it' niche near Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey. Hope that clarifies for you

  5. Full of errors. Henry VIII never referred to Anne of Cleves as a Flanders mare, this negative label dates from over one hundred years after their lifetimes and was invented by a hostile author. The author of this article also incorrectly dates Katherine Howard's age, describes her as promiscuous when she was not, and claims she was Thomas Culpeper's lover when modern research indicates the opposite. She also claims that Katherine Parr's reputation was untarnished: hardly. The queen dowager's contemporaries were astonished when she remarried less than three months after Henry's death, and her stepdaughter Mary Tudor treated Katherine very coldly thereafter for a time.


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