Tuesday, February 13, 2007

He Said He'd Call



Signature of Kathryn Howard

Henry VIII of England had a habit of disappearing on his wives, with nary a goodbye. He left his first wife of 22 years, Catherine of Aragon, went he went to go hunting at Woodstock. Anne Boleyn, wife number two, he parted from at an annual May Day jousting tournament, when a courier came bearing the news of her confessed infidelity through her tortured lovers.

Queen of Sheba Window
King's College, Cambridge (1)


Jane Seymour, wife number three, died shortly after childbirth (2), and since she was the wife who produced the much desired male heir (and didn't live long enough to bore him or piss him off,) she has the honor of being buried with Henry. Four? Anna of Cleves was rejected early on in the marriage. Henry thought the men responsible for promoting her were at fault. (3) Henry left Anna after May Day celebrations in 1540, much like Anne Boleyn. Something about May really triggered him.

The site of Kathryn's execution
Tower of London


Which brings us to Kathryn Howard.(4) She is usually protrayed as a careless, flighty, boy-crazy girl. She lost her head today: February 13, 1542, after being Queen for less than 18 months and was buried in the chapel near her cousin, Anne Boleyn.

I was thinking about young Kathryn today, dead before age 21. Kathryn was executed with her lady-in-waiting, Jane Viscountess Rochford. Both ladies confessed as their last words that they desired "all goodly people to take regard unto their worthy and just punishment with death." Kathryn died first, then Lady Rochford had to lie her own head on the same block as her mistress, still wet with Kathryn's blood. (5) Henry? He married again. Henry the Eighth. The Anti-Valentine.


Tower of London Bridge (6)


(1) The Queen of Sheba Window at Cambridge University is the only recognized representation of Kathryn Howard known to exist. She bows before Henry, shown as King Solomon.

(2) Jane died of puerperal fever (a common infection of the time) following childbirth.

(3) Thomas Cromwell lost his head over her. The misjudgment about Anna as a hottie made him politically vulnerable.

(4) Kathryn has many varied spellings in that era: Catherine, Katherine, Kathryn. I went with Kathryn because it pleaseth me.

(5) Kathryn had asked for the chopping block to be brought to her chambers so that she might practice and make an honorable death. She had a day's rehearsal before the curtain rose.

(6) I've walked across this bridge. It bears traffic, but it is also a drawbridge, and as such, it is cut in the middle so that it may raised and lowered. When you get toward the halfway point, as a pedestrian, the bridge is bouncing up and down under your feet. Standing out in the middle of the Thames, it can be totally unnerving.

7 Comments:

Blogger Drew said...

Is this a old - new twist on the Valentine's Day Massacre?

Tsk tsk -- how is a King supposed to get ahead?

Oh -- I'm full of it tonight... *stretch*yawn*

http://www.archive.org/details/HarryChampion
Click to start!

9:56 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I was lent a copy of Antonia Fraser's "Wives of Henry VIII," and even though I think I've read it before, I picked it up, between library books. I was reading the section on Kathryn Howard, and when I read she died on February 13th, and realized it was February 13th, I thought, *ding*.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Momentary Academic said...

Oh Cube, Henry VIII was a complicated man who was horrible to women. Doesn't it seem right that his only two children to survive and take the throne of England (Ireland and Wales) were women? woot!

Happy valentine's to the smartest girl around, Cube!

7:29 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

Damn, I was going to drop the "Kathryn practiced with the chopping block" factoid. such a creepy insight into what dying a good death could mean then.

Nice Valentine's post, Cube. You never disappoint.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Momentary and Mega: Thank you. Obviously there was so much more I could write, like how last wife Catherine Parr spared her own neck when she grew bold and overreached with her theological zeal, survived Henry, married a man she thought was her waiting love, only to find him messing with young Elizabeth I, banishing the girl, carrying Seymour's child at the then late age of 39 and succumbing to fever following the birth of a baby girl. None of Henry's children have left descendants. I could write a whole piece on how you have to make a pilgrimage just to track down each wife's grave. They are scattered around the country.

Words like "sadist," "egocentric" and "narcissist" seem to fix around Henry VIII's head like a bejeweled band.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous james said...

Interesting post. Right, right, "divorced, beheaded, died, deforced beheaded, survived...barely." Tis true that Howard and the Viscountess were both beheaded but that was a kind punishment in those days...the execution of choice for the upper classes since it was more or less quick. And don't worry about the Viscountess getting her dress stained, I believe both women (as well as wife #2) were executed in the fashionable French manner, the one where a person kneels as if in church and an executioner swings a broad sword horizontally to lop the head off--so no messy blocks! The women must have loved it....
but then again, I could be wrong and only #2 got that special treatment.

4:33 PM  
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10:47 AM  

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