A Very Tudor Christmas by Jacquie Gemmell

Christmastide 1547 – England

Henry always rose early these days, he used to rise at 6.00 a.m. in the past to take mass and then on to go hunting for the thrill and the feeling of the blood pumping in his body. Now that he was in a different routine he could not shake it away. He no longer hunted as his bones ached. But instead took to reading, though now he needed glasses to aid him.

Henry however was looking forward to Christmastide as his precious son Edward and his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth would be visiting Whitehall this year. He loved to parade his Edward around, show him off and tell everyone of how he was his true Tudor heir. Edward was gracious much like his Mother Jane. Oh, Jane Henry’s true love, the wife who obeyed and gave him his most wanted son, taken away to early in this life.

Mary was his sensible girl, very faithful and kind but also very religious like her mother and sometimes Henry hated how much she reminded him of Catherine, The Spanish Princess with a heart of gold. Elizabeth too was very kind but had a flare for knowledge, he knew at one time he had tried to deny she was his child but with her fiery red hair and sometimes Tudor temper he could no longer deny it. But at times, when he looked at her he could see the fierce eyes of her mother glaring back at him. When you owned and lived in several palaces, how could you not be reminded of your own past and the Christmastide’s of past with the many wives of Henry VIII.

Whitehall was decorated beautifully with many bright green and garish red garlands, with smells that floated from the great kitchens and made the whole palace full of hungry bellies. To set the scene even more it had begun to snow that morning and now the gardens were blanketed in soft white and still the snowflakes danced down from the sky. Henry stood by the window and looked out into his Kingdom. As he glanced into the gardens, people bustled about in their long gowns and hoods, some threw snowballs and others slipped as they rushed to get inside from the bitter breeze. Henry’s mind drifted away onto other things and soon he was transported to a time he had forgotten. He could feel the cold air hitting his cheeks and he felt young and alive once more. Henry felt a thud on the back of his padded waistcoat and he whipped around to see who had struck the King. From behind a tree and red headed girl with beautiful big eyes quickly ducked back behind the tree as if to hide, but let out a giggle that was almost music to Henry’s ears. He could not help it but soon a wide grin fell onto his face and he rushed off to the tree, the girl noticed and broke away from her hiding place and ran off into the gardens. Henry followed suit, laughing all the way until he caught her in his arms and turned her around. There was Catherine, his Catherine.

Henry paced down the long gallery towards the chapel ready for mass, many a portrait hung proudly on the walls. The carpets were richly decorated, even the chairs that were placed evenly throughout had intricate needlework woven into them. As he walked into the chapel he caught a glimpse of someone he thought he once knew. Puzzling at this and unable to see them again, he settled himself down ready to begin the mass. However, once again his mind was carried off into a memory he thought was deeply buried away. Henry opened his eyes to a room filled with many of his courtiers that he recognised as their younger selves, and a long table contained a mighty feast filled with many a turkey, chicken and pheasant. There was laughter, there was smiles as they toasted each other. As Henry looked around the room he caught sight of a purple gown richly decorated with jewels and embroidered with gold, spinning around and moving gracefully across the room, this particular woman was very much into her dancing and as he looked up he saw the very familiar style of a French hood with the edges adorned with pearls. Suddenly, as if someone had alerted her to the fact that the King was in the room she stopped her dance most abruptly and flashed a huge smile before almost skipping towards him, Henry spread out his arms and picked her up as she came into his arm, he spun her around causing her long skirts to wrapped around his legs and gently placed her down. Her dark eyes looked intently into his and he pulled her close once more kissing her forehead and whispering;
“Anne, my sweetheart Anne.”

Into his privy chamber Henry went, to meet with the gentleman and have discussions about the problems of the day. Before them was set a great feast, as he entered the room the men all bowed graciously and murmured the words;
“Your Majesty.”

At one time this room had been filled with many a young man, Henry being one himself, where they would discuss sports and ladies, they would go jousting and hunting but now these days seemed to be filled with discussions of religion and life.

Henry prided himself on his magnificently decorated chambers. He had ensured that all of his palaces contained the most lavish and wonderful designs and ornaments. His own bed was grand with ornate carvings of angels and great creatures. He made himself comfortable in his customised large chair by the open fire as he listened to the gentlemen talk and the crackling of the logs, he slowly drifted off.

In his dozing state, Henry found himself waiting outside in a passageway, many of his servants around him. He was tapping his foot on the stone floor waiting impatiently. The wooden doors were opened and it seemed as though the men around him suddenly woke up as out the door came a young woman clad in a crimson dress with long sleeves. Her pale face and blue eyes stuck out against the dark dress. Henry took the hand of this pretty blonde lady as they moved out to a larger corridor. Ahead of them was a guard in a uniform emblazoned with a Tudor rose.
“His Majesty the King and her Majesty the Queen!”

As they entered the room everyone bowed and rose with claps and smiles, Henry reached the other end of the great hall that had been decorated with mistletoe and lavish gold tapestries. Here, he hushed the crowed and said proudly;

“May you say a merry cheer to my good and loyal wife, Queen Jane!”

Out in the gardens the falling snow had finally stopped, Henry was wrapped in a black fur lined doublet, he could feel the crunch of the snow beneath his heavy feet as he walked by the lake. Two swans glided along, emerging from their snowy surroundings as they headed for the centre. Where there were once dying flowers, was now an intricate pattern of snow and ice hanging from the stems. Henry pondered how things considered to be ugly in winter had been made beautiful by the harsh winter. Soon his thoughts brought another memory from his deeply buried consciousness, as deep as the beauty of the dead flowers were in winter.

Henry sat tall and proud on his throne, looking down on his courtiers and watching the conversations between each of them. Announcements were being made as different well positioned courtiers were beginning to enter into the great hall. Henry felt slightly nervous as this was the first Christmas he had invited his once wife Anne of Cleves to court. Then the announcement came, he expected to feel nothing but the same unimpressed resentment he felt the first time he saw her. She was walked in by the Duke of Suffolk who looked quite taken a back, she wore a crimson red silk skirt and over this was a red velvet dress with bell sleeves. In her hair she wore a wreath of berries and holly. Henry felt his heart sink, she looked beautiful, she no longer wore the strange German fashions and as she approached him and wished him a Merry Christmas she spoke with perfect English. But most of all she seemed happy, he smiled back at her and lifted her up from the curtsey, held her hands and said;
“My beloved sister.”

Once again in his grand chambers Henry was being dressed into his fine gowns of gold cloth and jewels. A rich brown box which had the initials HR carved into the lid with the Tudor rose was presented to him, once opened it revealed an elaborate set of rings, he picked up a gold twisted ring with a blue sapphire, he held it in front of him and rolled it around in his fingers his mind wandered away into the blue depths of the ring. Once again in the great hall this time filled with many a courtier old and young dressed in reds, gold’s, crimsons and whites. Fires were blazing across the rooms and chandeliers hung from the tall ceilings illuminating everyone and everything. Then there she was in a golden gown her long hair down her back as she spun and danced around the room, she chose to dance with anyone who seemed happy to take her hand, wearing a smile that never seemed to subside on her face. So very young, so beautiful. The music ended and she swayed up to the main table at which Henry was situated. The young girl curtsied and sat down onto the throne next to Henrys, she didn’t even seem a little bit tired. Henry lifted himself up with a groan to face her she smiled sweetly and battered her eyelids, he took her hand seeing the ring he had presented her with when they first met, a gold twisted ring with a blue sapphire and kissed it. ‘You are my rose without a thorn’.

Finally Henry was sat upon his golden throne in the great hall, the candles were lit and placed in silver plated holders, long tables were placed down the hall with a crimson cloth and on top of this were many types of meat, pies, puddings and sweets. The usual tapestries had been replaced with golden embroidery and red damask. A tree was placed near the fire and had candles placed around it. Many women had berries and hollies in their hoods or hair. Those who could afford silk wore it to the full, velvet was also the choice for most.

Then the Queen entered, her dress was gold and contained patterns of flowers embroidered with a silver thread. Her skirt was a deep red and the sleeves of the dress were puffed out with white fur. The jewels she wore brought out the colour of her brown hair, which was mainly hidden behind a hood. As she smiled, Henry felt a warm feeling in his heart. Catherine didn’t make Henry feel young and he knew there was no longer any desire for a son, but she was a good wife, she nursed him at his worse times and cared for his children.

Behind her followed his three children, each with their own personalities and looks similar to that of their parents and as they all entered he also saw the images of each of his six wives entering the hall together, and as he looked around he marvelled at the grace of Catherine, the passion of Anne Boleyn, the fragility of Jane, the dignity of Anne of Cleves, the youthfulness of Katherine Howard and finally the loyalty of his last and his final wife, Catherine Parr.

Henry knew this was to be his last Christmas. His health was not good and no matter what his doctors said to him he knew his time was limited. He had welcomed and immersed himself in the vivid memories and images he had experienced today, some filled him with guilt and remorse but others brought back joyful memories of Christmastide.