The (lack of) coronations of Henry VIII’s wives

Tomorrow (6th May 2023), Charles III with be crowned and annointed in Westminster Abbey. Alongside him will be his second wife, Camilla, who will be crowned as Queen Consort. It seemed an apt time to consider the coronations, or rather, lack of coronations of four of Henry VIII’s wives.

Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was crowned alongside him in a ceremony that took place on 24th June 1509, just 13 days after they had married. His second wife, Anne Boleyn, was crowned in a solo ceremony on 1st June 1533. They would be the only two of his wives to be crowned. So, why did the other women not get a coronation?

His third wife, Jane Seymour, was supposed to be crowned in 1536. However, the ceremony was postponed until the following year. On 3rd October 1536, the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador to England, Eustace Chapuys, wrote to Emperor Charles V saying that the coronation was delayed to the following summer “and some doubt it will not take place at all”. He then added that there was no sign that she would have children. The implication was clear, he believed that Henry would not crown his wife until he had a male heir. Queen Jane did eventually have the desired son but, as she died shortly after, she was never crowned.

Over the next ten years, Henry would have three further weddings but there would be no more coronations. The marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled as soon as possible, Katherine Howard was executed for treason without children, and Katherine Parr also had no children with Henry VIII.

It does seem likely that Henry was once bitten, twice shy (or rather twice bitten, three times shy) when it came to crowning the women he married. His marriages to both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn were both annulled meaning that, legally, neither of them had been his wife. Therefore, neither of them should have been crowned as a Queen. The fact that the coronations had taken place was an embarrassment. An embarrassment that he was not prepared to risk happening again.

Review: “The Tudors: Passion, Power, and Politics” exhibition

Inspired by a Twitter conversation about this Guardian article, I recently visited “The Tudors: Passion, Power, and Politics” exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath. The article is headlined: ‘Beginning of modern Britain’ and the text talks about a compelling period of “British history”, and relations between “Britain” and European countries. Whilst it makes for a compelling headline (especially in the context of Brexit), it was immediately obvious that the portraits mentioned were all English, and the article made no reference to the fact that Scotland was a separate kingdom in the 16th-century with its own politics and international relationships.

Contrary to the impression given by the article, the exhibition does not erase the Scottish experience of the 16th-century by equating it with “Britain”. However, if you are looking for an exhibition that explores the experiences of the different nations that make of the British Isles, you will not find it here. As the title says, this is an exhibition about the Tudor dynasty. The only non-English figures to feature are Mary, Queen of Scots (in the context of Queenship and conflict with England); Katherine of Aragon (in the context of her marriage into England); Gerlack Flicke (who worked largely in England); and (arguably) half-Welsh Henry VII, though little reference is made to his Welsh roots.

Having established what the exhibition is not, what was my experience of it?

Continue reading “Review: “The Tudors: Passion, Power, and Politics” exhibition”

Katherine of Aragon and the Battle of Flodden

The Battle of Flodden was fought between the armies of England and Scotland on 9th September 1513. The English army was led by Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey (future 2nd duke of Norfolk), with support from Lord Admiral Sir Thomas Howard (future 3rd duke of Norfolk), Sir Edmund Howard, Lord Dacre and Sir Edward Stanley. However, although Surrey had been entrusted with the military defence of the realm, it was Katherine of Aragon who had been appointed Regent while Henry VIII was campaigning in France. She had the authority to raise an army and a council headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The TV Series Spanish Princess depicted a pregnant Katherine taking to the battlefield. Whilst this is a complete fabrication, what was the extent of her involvement with the battle? Was she just a passive figurehead or did she play an active role as Regent?

Check out snippets of Katherine in action on the battlefield in the Spanish Princess series 2 trailer
Continue reading “Katherine of Aragon and the Battle of Flodden”

The Three Wives of Henry VIII

“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, behind, survived.” It is a familiar rhyme, used to help remember the fates of the six women who married Henry VIII. So, why am I saying that he only had three wives? After all, he had six marriage ceremonies. The answer lies in the definition of an annulment which declared a marriage null and void, as if it had never happened, as opposed to a divorce which dissolves a valid marriage. Which of the women would Henry have considered to be his wife? Continue reading “The Three Wives of Henry VIII”