Henry Tudor of the Six Wives fame is Moonday’s Heroic Hunk in History. Born in 1491 in Greenwich Palace, as the second son of Henry VII he was not expected to inherit and consequently his early childhood is lost to history.
He attended the wedding of Arthur, Prince of Wales to Catherine of Aragon in November 1501. Within five months of the marriage, the always sickly Arthur died. Despite Arthur’s post-wedding night brag (“been in Spain”), Catherine claimed that the marriage had not been consummated. After obtaining a papal dispensation, England and Spain signed a treaty allowing Catherine (who had been born in 1485) to marry Prince Henry.
In the years that followed, squabbling between the monarchs of Spain and England left Catherine impoverished, forced to hock her possessions to maintain herself and her household. The English King was having buyer’s remorse and had taken steps to back out of the betrothal. When Henry VII died in 1509, his 17-year-old son became Henry VIII, decided that he liked Catherine and married her within months. He also executed his father’s most productive and hated tax collectors, Edmund Dudley and Sir Richard Empson who had helped his father amass his fortune.
Henry, unlike our historical image, resembled his handsome grandfather (Edward IV)—tall (six feet) with red-gold hair and beard . Henry was athletic (a big-time tennis player) and loved to hunt and joust. SO very different from his dour father.
A Venetian diplomat described the 25-year-old Henry in a dispatch: “His Majesty is the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful that it would become a pretty woman, his throat being rather long and thick…. He speaks French, English and Latin, and a little Italian, plays well on the lute and harpsichord, sings from book at sight, draws the bow with greater strength than any man in England and jousts marvelously…. a most accomplished Prince.”
In 1511, Catherine gave birth to their first child, a son named Henry after his father. The infant died two months later—the first of a long line of unsuccessful pregnancies that ended in miscarriage or infant death with only a daughter, Mary who was born in 1516, to survive. Catherine was considered a model wife—well-educated, well-connected, and skilled in household matters (She even sewed and mended Henry’s shirts.) She participated in the business of the Court and Henry called himself her “Knight of the Loyal Heart.”
Henry soon strayed, however. In 1514, he commenced an affair with one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting—Bessie Blount who was 13 or 14 years old at the time. The affair lasted until 1519 when Bessie delivered Henry’s bastard , Henry Fitzroy who was created the Duke of Richmond and Somerset. About this time, Mary Boleyn (Anne Boleyn’s sister) came on the scene as one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting.
In 1514, Henry engaged successfully in a war with France which ended in the Anglo-French treaty of 1514. In a spirit of the bond of friendship, Henry and King Francis I met outside Calais in June of 1520 in what is now called the “Field of Cloth of Gold,” a meeting famous for its extravagance and pageantry.
Henry has piqued the imagination of generations. He has been a popular subject for plays and movies such as The Tudors in which he was portrayed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Next week, Henry and Anne. RitaVF