Jane Parker, who was a distant cousin of King Henry VIII, came from a wealthy, well-connected, politically active and respected family and through an arranged marriage, became the wife of George Boleyn. George was best friends with the sexually insatiable King Henry who would one day actively pursue a pretty young girl called Anne, who as fate would have it, was George’s sister. This would come to pass after Henry had his way with and then discarded the other sister called Mary. In the end both brother and sister would have their heads chopped off before breakfast in the year 1536 and the sister-in-law would follow six years later
But where does this tangled tale start?
King Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon, who came all the way from Spain to marry the future King of England in order to build a mighty alliance between the two Catholic Kingdoms. But she did not come to marry Henry VIII. No, she came to marry the rightful heir to the throne, Arthur, Prince of Wales, who was Henry’s older brother. Unfortunately a couple of weeks into the marriage in 1502, the young Arthur at age 15, died of the sweating sickness
[On a side Note: This highly contagious disease claimed thousands without warning dispatching them swiftly into the grave. The disease eventually spread into Europe where in 1551 it disappeared just as suddenly as it appeared in 1485. Speculation today is that it might be been (or was very similar to) the Hantavirus which is brought on by rats and mice. This is very probable as sanitary conditions in merry England in the 1500’s were not ideal]
When Arthur died five months into the marriage, Catherine’s dad, Ferdinand II of Aragon, refused to pay the remainder of the dowry, as after all the husband was dead and was the marriage even consummated or not?
[On a side note: Ferdinand is the same guy who sent Christopher Columbus on the famous voyage of 1492 and the same guy who along with his wife Isabella I of Castile and Tomás de Torquemada ushered in the Spanish inquisition in order to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their Kingdoms and to replace the Medieval Inquisition, which was under Papal control]
Ferdinand went as far as to insist that the part of the dowry already received had to be returned to Spain along with his daughter, forthwith. But Henry’s dad, also a Henry, said no and started making arrangements for Henry VIII to marry the grieving widow when he became of age. Henry VII (the dad) also had an eye on her but thankfully that did not come to pass because that would just have been weird
In order for this marriage to take place between Henry VIII and the wife of his dead brother, the current Pope had to grant a Papal Dispensation which means “an exemption from the immediate obligation of law” so that Henry could marry Catherine
[On a side note: This Law is a body of laws and regulations made by ecclesiastical authority and which many parts of the world still actively follows, (except the bit about being kind to your brothers and sisters of another religion because that seems to have gone out the window some time ago) and this particular law was built around Leviticus 18:16 which categorically forbids a man to marry his brother’s wife, but if anybody bothered to read a bit further on before implementing the actual law, they would have discovered in Deuteronomy 25:5 that you are supposed to marry your dead brother’s wife. For those good folk who don’t have a copy of this bestseller, check-in to any hotel for the evening and open the bedside table. Therein lies, without fail, an unused Gideons Bible placed there for sinners and suicide contemplators alike. Take it. This is the only thing you may steal from the hotel without them pressing charges; oh and those little soaps and mini shampoo bottles. And maybe the shower cap if nobody is looking]
So after lots of nagging and furious letter writing back and forth, the Pope eventually allowed Henry VIII to marry Catherine of Aragon and they kept the dowry which had already been paid and they lived happily ever after
Well, for the next couple of years anyway.
Catherine opened up an embroidery school as after all, girls need some homemaking skills to land a man. However she did prove to be a formidable woman as when news reached her 1513 that the Scots were planning to invade England while Henry was away fighting to rid Italy of the French, she ordered the raising of an army and rode out in full armour to address the troops. (This might have been the inspiration for Elizabeth I in 1588 when addressing the troops 75 years later as they prepared for battle against the Spanish Armada). Once James IV of Scotland was killed in battle she sent Henry a letter informing him of the events along with a piece of bloodied cloth for him to fly at the siege of Tournai in Belgium
[On a side note: Tournai was captured in 1513 by Henry VIII, making it the only Belgian city ever to have been ruled by England. The city was handed back to French rule in 1519 following the Treaty of London (1518)]
For the most part, Catherine played the role of a dutiful woman and turned a blind eye to all his infidelities as after all, she was Queen and nobody could usurp her position
In Catherine’s court were Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn and their sister-in-law, Jane Boleyn and things might have ended there but for the fact that Henry VIII and Mary had a thing. Henry and Anne had a thing and it was rumoured that Henry had a thing with Jane Parker. This was the woman referred to as Mistress Parker in court documents and if this titillating rumour is correct, it would well explain Jane Boleyn’s actions later in life as hell hath no fury as a woman scorned
Mary Tudor had met Henry VIII on her wedding day to William Carey and sometime after became Henry’s mistress. The relationship only ended after the birth of her second child who was named Henry Carey. This naturally had many social wags commenting how much he resembled the king. In fact, Henry Carey would have been the rightful heir to the throne in the event of Henry VIII’s death but Henry refused to acknowledge any of Mary’s children regardless of the fact that they looked like him, red hair and all, and this was also irrespective of the fact that Henry continued to pay Mary’s husband considerable sums of money during the 1520’s. One can only speculate why but cuckold comes to mind
[On a side note: Historians depict Mary as a bit of a tart who had many lovers including Francois I, the King of France, who referred to her as “una grandissima ribalda” which roughly translates as “a great slag.”]
In 1524, Henry VIII met Anne, who not only played hard to get, but was at the time betrothed to a chap called Henry Percy. Her engagement was broken off by Cardinal Wolsey (who was still in favour with the King at that stage) stating that permission for the marriage had not been sought from his father nor from the King but in reality it was due to the fact the Henry VIII had already expressed an interest in Anne and Wolsey was just doing his sycophantic duty.
[On a side note:This came back to bite him in 1529 when he was stripped of his government office and property after failing to secure the annulment of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Let this be a lesson to keep your nose out of other folks business]
Anyway, so here was Anne, refusing to be like her sister Mary who was the King’s mistress from approximately 1521 to 1526, and who emphatically told the King that she wanted nothing to do with him unless there was a ring on her finger. This put Henry in a conundrum because the Pope had put his foot down this time and refused to grant another annulment or papal change to a Tudor. So Henry was forced to not only convert to another new-fangled religion but he dragged most of England kicking and screaming along. Those that protested too loud and too long quickly found themselves making the acquaintance of the executioner’s axe. The main selling point of the religion change was probably that the good book would no longer be in Latin. (Matters got really complicated in 1558 when his daughter, Blood Mary, a vitriolic Catholic, came to the throne and during her five-year reign, had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake. During that period claiming to be a Buddhist would have been the safest bet)
Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen on 1 June 1533 and on 7 September gave birth to Henry’s daughter Elizabeth. But Elizabeth being a girl, had no claim to the throne due to the law or custom of Primogeniture which states that only the legitimate, firstborn son may inherit his parent’s titles or estate, in preference to daughters, elder illegitimate sons, younger sons and collateral relatives
End of Part 1