Was Henry VIII a Cursed King?

Posted By on October 31, 2010

Philip the Fair of France

Anne Boleyn Files visitor, Lexy from France, has written us a special Halloween article – enjoy it and don’t forget to enter our Halloween Competition. Also, if you go to a Halloween event at somewhere like Hever Castle or Sudeley Castle then please do let me know what it was like.

Was Henry VIII a Cursed King

by Lexy

In 1528, as the King of England was about to change his country’s destiny by creating a new Church, a mad ( or well manipulated) nun named Elizabeth Barton announced that if he married Anne Boleyn dogs would lick up his corpse’s blood. Twenty years later, when his coffin broke and a dog licked what was coming out, lots of people remembered this prophecy. But as we are about to celebrate Halloween, the time of all the horrors, we should ask ourselves if, indeed, Old Harry was under the spell of another curse, more ancient, and which had nothing to do with his marital status, the Curse of the Templars.

The Curse

The story begins with King Philip the Fair, who ruled France from 1285 to 1314.

Apart from siring the infamous She-wolf of France, his major deeds were uniting definitively what was before a patchwork of more or less independent territories and being the first French King to defy the Pope for another reason than marriage. He considered that the King of France had the right to decide who would receive the charges and money in his own kingdom, and to receive the money himself in the case of the charge having no tenant. Of course, this financial aspect had more to do with the creation of what historians call “gallicanism” than religion, Philip being constantly on the brink of ruin. He accused the Pope Boniface VIII of sodomy and simony ( the act of selling religious goods) and even allowed his ambassador, Guillaume de Nogaret, to slap the Holy Father in the face in 1303.

But, when Clement V succeeded Boniface, Philip found a partner in crime, in particular in destroying the wealthy and controversial Templars. On Friday October 13th 1307, the leaders of the Order were arrested; after being accused of adoring the devil and sodomy ( the Medieval and legal equivalent of a Swiss knife, which could be used for every reason). They were tortured and burned at the stake. Their wealth was shared between the King and the Pope, as expected; but what wasn’t expected were Master Jacque de Molay’s last words. Here is a translation of another translation from Medieval French, by the writer and historian Maurice Druon:

“Pope Clement, knight Guillaume de Nogaret, King Philip, before a year will have passed, I summon you to God’s court! Cursed, you’ll be all cursed, until the thirteenth generation of your races will have disappeared! “

Here is the trailer of the most recent adaptation of this book: you can hear Gerard Depardieu screaming the curse in it:-

These words took another dimension when all three men died in the time announced, especially when one couldn’t close the eyes of the dead king, a sign that he was doomed by Medieval standards.

The Heirs of the Curse: Was Henry One of Them?

Philip wasn’t the only one to be cursed: cursing someone, especially until the naturally cursed thirteenth generation, meant that your whole blood, including your family’s had to disappear. Philip’s three sons died young and sonless; and some historians, having noticed that Louis XVI was the thirteenth generation descended from Philip, even link this curse to all the French kings.

But what of Philip’s other descendants, the Kings of England? Through Isabella, one can imagine they too were affected: Richard II’s infamous death, Henry VI’s madness, the destiny of all the Yorkists kings and pretenders… But Henry VIII was not only twice a descendant of Isabella of France , through Edmund of Langley and John of Gaunt, he had an extra drop of accursed blood from Katherine of Valois, whose father’s madness was considered to be another part of the curse. The suffering and lack of a male heir would then be a consequence of something beyond the wife’s choice or anybody’s sin.

But another point played against Henry: like his ancestor Philip, he acted with hubris and arrogance against the Church, creating his own in order to be the only one to own both the wealth and power in his country, a major argument for being doomed by a monk’s curse. Like Philip, he used the stake and the sword against the innocent in order to seize this power and wealth, from Cardinal Fisher to Anne Askew. Henry had the blood of innocents on his hands, just like Philip. Like Philip’s son, Louis X, his wife was found guilty of adultery, put in jail and executed ( though Louis did it unofficially), and the son his fair other wife had didn’t live long. One can even consider the lack of heirs of Edward, Mary and Elizabeth a result of the curse, after all, thirteen generations had not yet passed.

Spooky facts, no?

What Does All This Teach Us?

Now, what can we learn from this story?

When a man as fat as Henry, with his ulcerous legs, was put in a wooden coffin, it is more believable that the coffin had a flaw, that it broke under his weight and that a corpse already rotting in life had continued to rot after death. Philip’s death resulted from a fall from a horse, and Clement’s death had more to do with poison and the internal rivalries in the Vatican than with a curse from a dying old man. But can we accuse Medieval people of credulity and superstition, when we look at the similarities between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and Kennedy, or read articles about how Nostradamus predicted September the Eleventh 20o1? When people in France believed that an eclipse would be the end of the world because Paco Rabanne had written a book on it? Every man in this world, since its beginning, has been looking for meaning and sense, and we, with all our science and progress, are not that different from Medieval and Tudor people.

But since a little dreadful moment is always good… Happy Halloween!

Thanks, Lexy! I wish I could write as well as that in French!

You may also be interested in reading:-

15 thoughts on “Was Henry VIII a Cursed King?”

  1. Lady Kateryn says:

    Interestingly, Henry often declared his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to be cursed because he had married his dead brother’s widow although I think it was actually Friar Peto who preached that the dogs would lick Henry’s blood – Elizabeth Barton predicted Henry would lose his throne if he carried on with his policies.

    I suppose you could say that most of the Royal families of Europe were cursed (eg there’s the curse of the Grimaldis of Monaco and the haemophilia that caused havoc for Queen Victoria’s descendants.)

    It’s good to see Jeanne Morreau and Gerard Depardieu acting together again; weren’t they in Les Valseuses? I loved the novels of Maurice Druon when I was younger, they were so interesting!

    1. ipaud says:

      Well done Lexi, some food for thought. I did not hear that story about Henry’s coffin and the dog before, interesting! Henry did not get the coffin he wanted and the grand memorial in his final resting place never got built. I wonder if that was one that Elizabeth or Mary his daughters left slip?

      1. Lucy says:

        I visited Henry’s burial place in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle last week, and was stunned to see his modest memorial plaque (shared with many others).

        I am curious as to why Edward, Mary and Elizabeth did not carry out the elaborate memorial that was not only designed, but half built, already (so cost was presumably not the issue). Apparently the memorial had originally been commissioned by Cardinal Wolsey, and the components apropriated by Henry when Wolsey fell from grace. The unused blocks of stone were kept at Windsor for many years, but later sold off to raise revenue – by Cromwell I believe.

        Surely it must have been quite an insult not to commemorate their father with the memorial that he so craved? You would have thought that any one of his children would have been happy to errect such a memorial and reinforce their noble lineage..

  2. Carolyn says:

    Thanks, Lexy! I knew only the basics of this story; it’s nice to know all the little details that make this a perfect Halloween story!

  3. Eliza says:

    Thank you, Lexy, for your article! It certainly got me into the Halloween mood!

    By the way, have watched the mini-series “Les Rois Maudits” with Gerard Depardieu and Jeanne Moreau and it was really good.

  4. Fiz says:

    I saw and possess the seventies version., which was great and excellent practise for A level French! This also set me off on an ABE book search – I see that “Les Rois Maudis” has been recently re-published in France. How about it here, please, publishers! All my original paperbacks have died since 1976!

  5. Rob says:

    Thought provoking. Really interesting article. Thank you, Lexy.

  6. Anne Barnhill says:

    Thanks Lexi,
    I had heard about the dog curse but had not idea about the French connection, Very interesting and rather spooky for Halloween! I can’t wait til next Halloween, I hope my costume will be ready by then!

  7. HannahL says:

    Wow, this was a really interesting article. I’m like Anne…I had heard the story of the coffin and the dogs, but not that of the French curse. Very appropriate for Halloween!

  8. Lexy says:

    Thanks everybody!
    Curses are a common topic about great families, and I found interesting that Henry may have been a victim of something beyond himself. If you can, you will appreciate Maurice Druon’s books, and the two adaptations. In the second one, Gerard Depardieu has few screen time and no scene with Jeanne Morea, but she’s in all the episodes as Mahaut d’Artois the feminist arch schemer. And Isabella and Mortimer’s love affair is beautifuly portrayed, too.

  9. Fiz says:

    “Mon fils, ayez pitie pour le gentil Mortimer”! I remember it well, and what a mistaken judgement that was! Drouon is a great writer.

  10. carolyn says:

    the 13th generation of the curse.mary boleyn son henry and daughter catherine was henry children.so they surpass the 13 generation.

  11. tag says:

    henry lovs ann like no one

  12. one-of-another says:

    What’s kind of creepy is that his great-grandfather’s daughter is Mary, and her illegitimate brother is my direct ancestor. Lady Mary Elskine is the woman of whom he had an affair with.

  13. Richard says:

    try ‘King’s Curse’ by Phillipa Gregory

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