Posted By Claire on August 26, 2009
Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments that you all left on “Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon – Part 1”, I didn’t realise that I’d spark off so much discussion!
Last week I examined Catherine of Aragon and her feelings about the annulment (“The Great Matter”), her husband and Anne, and today I’m going to look at Anne and Henry’s treatment of Catherine and examine whether Anne Boleyn was responsible for the ill-treatment that Catherine received.
Whatever our opinion on the matter, we cannot deny that Catherine of Aragon was treated despicably. She was a royal princess and Queen of England who deserved to be treated as such. All Catherine did was stick to her guns, insist that she was Henry’s true wife (which she was) and refuse to be bullied by a King who wanted his own way. Catherine kept her dignity and acted in a Queenly manner and yet she was treated with cruelty.
The Treatment of Catherine of Aragon
Due to the fact that Catherine refused to accept that she was no longer queen, and refused to accept the validity of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne and the legitimacy of Princess Elizabeth, she was banished to Kimbolton Castle, a cold and remote property. Her maids were reduced to just three and her living allowance was cut drastically.
Sources suggest that she lived in just a small part of the castle, possibly just one room, and that she spent her last days wearing a hair shirt, praying for hours each day and only leaving her room to attend mass. She was forbidden from seeing, and even contacting, her daughter Mary and the last year of her life must have been one filled with heartbreak. It is no wonder that her health deteriorated rapidly and that she died on 7th January 1536 after weeks of illness.
Who’s to Blame?
Who is to blame for this cruel treatment though?
Surely a man could not treat his wife of over 20 years in this way? Henry VIII had loved Catherine enough to rescue her from a precarious situation when her husband, Prince Arthur, had died, and their first few years of marriage seemed happy. Henry had trusted and respected Catherine enough to leave her in charge of England and fighting off the Scots while he dealt with France, and they had shared the joy of having a daughter and the heartbreak of losing child after child. Surely Henry could not be to blame!
See, it’s easy for people to blame the wicked harlot, the “concubine”, the “goggle eyed whore”, or the other woman for Catherine’s suffering and her ultimate demise. No wonder Anne Boleyn is often portrayed as a cunning and spiteful woman who felt threatened by Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary and so wanted them out of the way. It was even suggested, by the Seymour alliance when Anne fell from favour, that Anne had planned to poison Catherine of Aragon, the Lady Mary and the Duke of Richmond (Henry Fitzroy)! Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, who loved to think ill of Anne, wrote of Catherine’s death:-
“It was a pain in the stomach, so violent that she could retain no food. I asked her physician several times if there was any suspicion of poison. He said he was afraid it was so, for after she had drunk some Welsh beer, she had been worse and that it must have been a slow and subtle poison for he could not discover evidences of simple and pure poison.” (Source: “Thomas Cromwell” – Robert Hutchison)
and he was obviously implicating Anne in this, seeing as he had previously written of how he felt the lives of both Mary and Catherine were in danger from Anne and her followers:-
“Neither the Queen nor the Princess will be safe for a moment while the Concubine still has power; she is desperate to get rid of them.” (Alison Weir’s “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”)
The fact that Catherine’s heart was black, when she was cut open for embalming, also fuelled the conspiracy theories as this was taken as a sign of poisoning. We now know that it was more likely that Catherine died of cancer, although her death could well have been hastened by a “broken heart”. She was not poisoned and Anne Boleyn cannot be blamed for her death or labelled a murderess. But was Anne to blame for Catherine’s treatment? Just how much influence did Anne have over Henry and how did she feel about Catherine?
To be honest, I think Anne would have to be a saint not to harbour some resentment towards Catherine and Mary. We all know how it feels to go into a relationship where the ex is still lurking in the background. We would not be human if we did not want them to just disappear! Who can blame Anne for wanting Catherine and Mary to disappear into the background and pretend that they just didn’t exist?!
There is actually not much evidence to testify to how Anne felt about Catherine. In “The Tudors”, we see Anne having a fit about Catherine still making Henry’s shirts (something she is said to have carried on doing) and Ives makes the point that “Chapuys’ letters are full of her [Anne] railing against Mary and of her lurid threats to curb her ‘proud Spanish blood'” but this was probably no more than Anne ranting, after all Anne was known for her quick temper. Here was Anne trying to be recognised as Queen and trying to get her daughter recognised as heir to the throne, can we blame her for her frustration and resentment of her predecessor and of the threat to her daughter’s future throne?
It is obvious that Anne felt great relief on hearing the news of the death of Catherine of Aragon – her rival was gone, hurrah! Her relief and happiness are shown by the fact that she rewarded the messenger with a gift and that she and Henry celebrated BUT who wore yellow and what did this mean?
There are different accounts of Henry and Anne’s celebration of Catherine’s death. Ives talks of how Henry cried out:
“God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!”
(Source: Eric Ives’ “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”)
and that the following day, Anne and Henry were dressed head-to-toe in yellow and that they paraded their daughter, Elizabeth, triumphantly.
Retha Warnicke writes of how the chronicler, Edward Hall, reported that Anne wore yellow but that this could have actually been a misunderstanding due to Anne redecorating her confinement chamber at Eltham in yellow or it could be seen as a failure to mourn. Warnicke points out that Chapuys’ records show that it was Henry, not Anne, who wore yellow and that it was he who paraded the Princess Elizabeth so triumphantly.
Hester Chapman, in her book “The Challenge of Anne Boleyn”, reports how Chapuys records Henry VIII’s reaction to Catherine of Aragon’s death as Henry declaring:
“God be praised, the old harridan is dead, we are free from all suspicion of war!”
and that Henry was “transported with joy” and dressed himself in yellow. Anne excused this behaviour by saying that yellow was the Royal Spanish colour of m0urning.
There is much controversy about Henry and/or Anne wearing the colour yellow because in England yellow is generally linked with happiness, not mourning. I have been unable to find a definitive answer. Some suggest that yellow was a mourning colour in Spain at this time, so it is difficult to figure out the motivation behind wearing this colour. Perhaps Henry VIII knew that he would be seen as a hypocrite for wearing black when he had treated Catherine so abominably and perhaps this wearing of yellow was out of respect for her. There are reports that both Henry and Anne wept in private over Catherine’s death, but I have been unable to find solid evidence of this.
So, we have no real evidence of how Anne felt about Catherine and Catherine’s death, but we can see, with hindsight, that it was the beginning of the end for Anne. With Catherine’s death, Henry VIII was free to get rid of Anne and move on to another woman (Jane Seymour) without being forced to return to his “real” wife, Catherine. Henry could not have set Anne aside while Catherine lived.
I apologise for my ramblings but I will conclude with saying that I think that the only person responsible for Catherine’s suffering and ill-treatment was King Henry VIII.
Whether or not you believe that Anne had some magical hold or influence over him, Henry was big and bad enough to make his own decisions. He ordered Catherine to be banished from Court, he sent her away to Kimbolton and gave her rooms to Anne, he forbade her to see or contact Mary, he was ultimately responsible and it was because this woman had defied him. Catherine of Aragon had the nerve (how Henry saw it) to refuse to go quietly. She had humiliated the King at the Legatine Court with her passionate speech, she refused to accept the annulment, she carried on referring to herself as Queen and seeking advice from the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor, she had the tenacity to refuse to go to a convent and she was stirring up trouble for Henry and his new wife. Catherine had to be brought down a peg or two and shown who was boss – he, Henry, would show her!
I truly believe, whatever “The Tudors” or historical fiction would have us believe, that Henry was in ultimate control and that he is the only one to blame for Catherine’s poor treatment and death. Anne was the excuse, not the cause.
What do you think?