This may seem like a break from my usual programming… But I promise, by the end you’ll see why I decided to write about this here 😉
It may not be clear to you from my blog, but I have a fascination with the Tudors. For many years I have been interested in the delicate dance of palace intrigue the many wives of Henry VIII had to do, but also the sheer amount of interpersonal drama.
The other night I watched a series called “Secrets of the Six Wives with Lucy Worsley,” it is a three part documentary on the wives of Henry and it was so well done. It’s got dramatic reenactments in which the hostess and historian, Lucy, is always a background character being an eye witness to the events as they unfold – telling the story through eye witness accounts. I thought it was a fascinating premise, personally.
The thing that made this series extraordinary to me, though, was the added insight she gave – and explaining it so well, showing the truths behind the rumors that flooded how the world remembered these women.
Points were made about how Anne of Cleves, who is referred to even today as “The Flanders Mare,” actually had several accounts of her at the time of being a beautiful creature. Henry ended up using the excuse that she was “ugly” and that he was duped by the portrait painter because her advisors had neglected to explain “courtly romance” in which Henry was so into, and she also was unaware of his preference for playing games in which he disguised himself… Causing an awkward first meeting. She did not react how he wanted her to, which caused him to be disappointed in their first meeting.
Another interesting point was made about what Anne Boleyn said in her final confession – in which she maintained her innocence. That people of the time would have believed they would be damned to eternal torment if they lied during confession – a point that made the hostess believe that she really was innocent. Apparently the whole ordeal started at a point where Anne took her courtly romance “duty” a little too far. She was actually expected to flirt with young men in the court, but as an eye witness account recorded, she made a comment that was considered treasonous (referencing the King’s death) while she was in the midst of her flirting… Which caused the rumor mill to start that she actually was doing things she shouldn’t have been doing with the 5 men that became involved in the rumors.
That’s bad enough, right?
But here’s what really got me:
Catherine Howard, you poor pigeon!
Even as my “Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Kings and Queens of Britain,” by Charles Phillips indicates, Catherine Howard has been remembered as a promiscuous, unchaste, “woman of experience.” That is most of what I had heard of her before, myself. I knew, yes, that her Step-Grandmother’s school she lived at since possibly as young as 5 was investigated for the allegations against the Queen’s past… But I never put 2 and 2 together.
Catherine Howard “had relations” with her cousin who not only was 10 years older than her, (I had always envisioned him as closer in age to her) but also worked at the school. She also had similar relationships with her music teacher. Both of whom had access to get the keys to the maiden’s bedchambers. There is some discussion as well that older girls would let the men in for their entertainment. She was only approx. 15 when she caught Henry’s eye – which was after she had moved to court. The involvement with her 36 yr old music teacher happening when she was about 13 years old. As Lucy Worsley put it – today we’d call that child abuse. Yet, she is still remembered as a silly little slut.
Later, after she married the King, she became involved with Thomas Culpepper. Again, Ms Worsley made an interesting point. Thomas was not only a known womanizer, but the King had previously pardoned him when he raped someone and then murdered someone else who had tried to stop him. He was dangerous and a sexual predator, who also seemed to be one of the King’s favorites.
Though there is a surviving love letter in her hand written to Thomas, it was of Ms Worsley’s opinion that one could read it as placating to him in hopes he’d remain quiet and amiable. Another historian I heard once suggest it can also be read as just a very close friendship; foolish though it was to write such things down.
I guess we’ll never know for sure how that particular relationship went, but the facts seem to point at the likelihood that she would have been extremely vulnerable to his advances, especially if he were in anyway using intimidation or force.
To put a more modern lens on it – there is a likelihood that she developed a dissociation and/or flippancy towards sex having been put in the situations she had been at such a young age. She would have been an easier target than another Queen who had not been molested and abused. It may very likely have been that she would have a difficult time saying no. However, Culpepper said in his confession he had lusted after her, but never acted on his lust – and he believed she lusted after him too. That did not help his case, and it may not have been the truth (a partial truth hoping for mercy; knowing that admitting it in full would definitely mean death.)
When she was arrested and questioned, she told the truth about her past. She admitted to being involved in a sexual nature with these men. She begged for mercy – which she did not get in the end, obviously. Henry was merciful in the beginning when it appeared it was all in her past, it all broke down when the allegations of indecency after she got married came about.
In the end, she announced that the punishment was worthy and just. “I have committed many sins against God from my youth upwards,” she said. Indicating that she took fault with herself for what happened to her as a child.
That hit me in the gut, you guys. That really hit me in the gut. I know I have struggled with guilt and shame stemming from my abusive boyfriend who I got together with at *gasp* 13… Same approx. age as Catherine was, at least with the one relationship. I also know that my experiences with him caused me to become disassociated and easily pliable when it came to men wanting sexual favors from me – even more so if they displayed any sort of aggressive behavior.
Supposedly there are other historians that have written about Catherine with sympathy, I think I’m going to have to delve back into this subject more when I have time. In the meantime, if you are interested, I’d say check out the series I mentioned. Ms Worsley did a really good job at explaining nuances of life at court/with Henry I hadn’t thought about before; which affected how his wives lived their lives, and died.