This will be a short and sweet blog. I am currently reading “The Six Wives of Henry the VIII” by Alison Weir. I have always found the Renaissance/Tudor periods fascinating, and Henry and his six wives are, quite frankly, a ripping good story. The plotting, intrigues, and conspiracies that went on in his court are things that in no way could Hollywood think of. The political and religious repercussions from his marraiges are still felt today. History is so much better than fiction.
In brief, what happened is this. Katherine of Aragon was originally married to Henry’s brother Arthur. Apparently, according to Katherine and members of her and Arthur’s retinue, on the wedding night, (November 14(1501) the young prince had some problems with his, royal sceptre, as it were. Despite Arthur’s bragging the following day, it seems as if what went on was not Coitus Interruptus, but more like “come-on-and-interrupt-us, for nothing is happening tonight”. Shortly thereafter, on April 2, 1502, Prince Arthur died from TB.
It was afterwards arranged that Henry marry the widow. However there was some concern among statesmen and church authorities that this marriage would be invalid because parts of the Bible prohibited a marriage between and widow and her deceased husband’s brother. It was considered incestuous. (Leviticus 20:21) But at the same time parts of the Bible said it was ok. (Deuteronomy 20:5). The idea of this marriage was appealing to Henry’s father, Henry VII, because this marriage would form a strong alliance between England and Spain, and help strengthen Henry’s claim to the throne of England.
After much debate and discussion, it all hinged on if Arthur and Katherine had sex their wedding night. Based her swearing that nothing went on, a Papal Dispensation was issued allowing the marriage to proceed. Still, there were some who were uneasy about the whole thing, even with the Papal A-OK. Even, in the back of his mind, did Henry. But still, at that point in his life, he was genuinely fond of her and duty called, so marry her he did.
Later in life, though, he got tired of her; she was getting older, and she had not produced a son for him. At the same time, he got the hots for one of Katherine’s Ladies in Waiting, Anne Boleyn. Now, and this is a key point, he had previously had a torrid affair with her sister Mary.
Now, Anne was a genius at playing hard to get. For the first time, a lady actually refused to hop in the sack Henry at his command, and the more she played hard to get, the more out of control his hormones became. He finally decided to dump Katherine, and used the pretext of the marriage being invalid because she was his brothers wife, even though the truth is he was just plain tired of her.
Long story short, after 7 years of inaction on the part of Pope Clemet, Henry took matters into his own hands; he renounced the Catholic Church, formed the Church of England with he and future monarchs as it’s head, formally annulled his marriage to Katherine and essentially sent her into domestic exile until her death 1536.
We all know what happened after that. He married Anne, still got no sons (except a stillborn), realized that Anne was a detriment to his throne, got tired of her, and for political and other reasons, wound up lopping off her dome.
My question is this; the church authorities were concerned about not marrying his brothers wife. If that is the case, wouldn’t the same standards apply in this case with Anne; ie; thou shalt not marry the sister of your one-time sex toy or put another way, thou cannot have a fling with your wife’s sister? Seems like it is the same logic of prohibiting a marriage between a widow and her husbands brother. From what i could find, it appears that the Bible does indeed prohibit this.(though is specifically states wives and sisters, not mistresses and sisters) So why was there no opposition to the King marrying Anne based on these grounds? (and there was opposition; Anne was very unpopular amongst members of the court and the general population) These could have been argued during that 7 year period when they were all waiting to hear from the Pope.
My guess; First, no one wanted to anger the King. If someone had mentioned that he had had an affair with Anne’s sister, it would have humiliated Henry and probably cost him a spell in the Tower and/or an appointment with the Ax. Secondly, there was a double standard at this time. The king could not marry a brothers widow, it would have been unclean, But it would be perfectly ok for the king to marry the sister of a sexual plaything, because after all, they were just women, and not even married.
I have been wondering just exactly would have happened if someone had the guts to bring up this point. For sure there would have been more public opposition to Anne, who was already considered a harlot and worse, and maybe strengthened the internal opposition. But the end result would most likely have been the same, for Henry was such a strong and dynamic personality that he made sure he got what he wanted. But there is always that tantalizing “what if” scenario.. would Spain declare war on England? Would France join Spain? Anyway, like I mentioned before it probably would have all turned out the same, if just not more difficult. But is is fun to speculate!