Shelved Dolls: Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – Henry VIII’s Two Beheaded Wives (The Other Ones Are Boring)

Rumors flying, Henry VIII has Anne tried and convicted of treason and sentenced to be beheaded. Again, I want to reiterate that modern historians who are not Philippa Gregory have found nothing to suggest that Anne was, at any point, unfaithful.

This is basically the same thing that happens to anyone who ultimately agrees to go out with the guy who keeps Facebook-messaging her. He will eventually reveal himself to be utterly insane. I mean, he’ll be toss-a-bowl-of-soup-at-a-waiter insane, not gonna-behead-you insane, but still.

So. Anne is sentenced to die for a crime she almost certainly didn’t commit. Most of us would freak out at this point, and be really, really angry about that “unjustly having to die situation.” However, Anne very respectfully requested that she be beheaded with a sword, rather than a common axe. She also asked that none of the men who stood accused with her be punished; that did not work out. She wrote this very polite letter to King Henry:

“Sir,
Your Grace’s displeasure, and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, as what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a truth, and so obtain your favour) by such an one, whom you know to be my ancient professed enemy. I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty perform your demand.

But let not your Grace ever imagine, that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought thereof preceded. And to speak a truth, never prince had wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn: with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself, if God and your Grace’s pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your Grace’s fancy, the least alteration I knew was fit and sufficient to draw that fancy to some other object. You have chosen me, from a low estate, to be your Queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire. If then you found me worthy of such honour, good your Grace let not any light fancy, or bad council of mine enemies, withdraw your princely favour from me; neither let that stain, that unworthy stain, of a disloyal heart toward your good grace, ever cast so foul a blot on your most dutiful wife, and the infant-princess your daughter. Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and judges; yea let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open flame; then shall you see either my innocence cleared, your suspicion and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your grace may be freed of an open censure, and mine offense being so lawfully proved, your grace is at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unlawful wife, but to follow your affection, already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose name I could some good while since have pointed unto, your Grace being not ignorant of my suspicion therein. But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great sin therein, and likewise mine enemies, the instruments thereof, and that he will not call you to a strict account of your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his general judgment-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear, and in whose judgment I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me) mine innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared. My last and only request shall be, that myself may only bear the burden of your Grace’s displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I found favour in your sight, if ever the name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing in your ears, then let me obtain this request, and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions. From my doleful prison in the Tower, this sixth of May;
Your most loyal and ever faithful wife,
Anne Boleyn”

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    • Naomi

      “The Tudors” got so much less interesting and engaging once Natalie Dormer was gone. Just sayin’.

      • http://twitter.com/JenAshleyWright Jennifer Wright

        Actually, Tamzin is my favorite wife on that show. I think she plays Catherine with the right kind of sex-appeal while also making her, clearly, an idiot child. At least in my mind it lines up so well with the “real” Catherine (at least as we know her from her letters and other people’s accounts). There’s also a scene where Tamzin/Catherine declares herself “most happy” which I love BECAUSE OBVIOUS FORESHADOWING MAKES ME MOST HAPPY.

      • Naomi

        Fair enough. Although, am I misremembering, or was the use of “happy” back then meant to mean “lucky”? I remember learning that when studying Shakespeare, but I’m unsure if it would also apply here.

      • JennyWren

        But that sexy puppet show…I could hardly keep my countenance.

    • Samantha_Escobar

      I love how popular this series is; it makes it clear that our generation is totally into historical biographies and stories, contrary to popular belief!

      “That isn’t like some sort of Ginnifer Goodwin in He’s Not That Into You thing where she starts referring to someone as her “fiance” in the hopes that it might come true.”
      Oh god, so cringe-worthy.

    • Ella

      Ann was pregnant with elizabeth when she and henry were married, not as demure as you seem to want to portray her.

      • JennyWren

        Yes, she was pregnant when they got married. Evidence suggests she slept with Henry for this first time on the boat back from meeting the French king at Calais (where Anne had made an excellent unofficial diplomat) in the winter of 1532 (Henry’s letters before that suggest their relationship was unconsummated). By this point Catherine of Aragon had been banished from court for a year and the break with Rome was well under way. Anne might not have been a church mouse, but by this point their marriage was pretty much a done deal.

    • Lindsey Bluth

      Anne was intelligent, outspoken, opinionated, an “interesting” beauty and pretty much, a fierce bitch as far as I’m concerned. She was clever and while brought up in the “french” way, still able to pose as a lady….for awhile anyway.

      Unfortunately, her cousin was not brought up to be that clever about her sexual practices in her free time and I mean, I give Catherine credit for at least being honest and saying “I’d rather die the wife of a Culpepper!” than the wife of a child molester, (at that point, because she was so young!), bipolar murderer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1188884930 Maegan Zimmerman

      Thank you! I’m obsessed with the Tudors dynasty. My favorite posting so far! Though I still hold out hope for Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves. They’re not that boring. Queen Katherine especially. But Anne Bolyen is my favorite wife of Henry VIII.

    • lola

      I guess when anne decided to accept advances from a married, she pretty much compromised her image,actually her image was ruined.She knew very well that king henry was a married man.But to her and her power hungry family it did not matter.When you accept to be courted by a married man accept to be called the worst names in the dic.I did watch the tudor series, i was loosing interest with it especially when wolsey died thats season 1.When more,fisher and koa died i did loose some interest but after some time developed interest in watching all the seasons.For me i liked katherine of aragons potrayal,anne of cleves,jane seymour and catherine parr, as for anne and catherine it was all about sex.

    • Kt_O

      Anne of Cleves owned. Anyone who reacts to King Henry’s bullshit “pretend to be a dirty peasant, then harass women” schtick by telling him off and physically getting in his face? Owned. Also love the “Nah, think I’ll stay in England, more money and freedom here” decision.

      • JennyWren

        It’s true. I love that story. And I think she was probably the smartest of his wives, despite a deplorable lack of sex ed. She made sure she got the best possible deal out of her farcical marriage.

    • HeavyDee

      Obsessed with Shelved Dolls. Obsessed. I’ve read them all, and now I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.

    • LaBoulainLover

      While it was a rumour at the time, Henry never actually slept with Anne and Mary’s mother. Once he was confronted with the fact that he had sex with his wife’s sister and mother and he responded “Never the mother!”

    • March

      While I cannot ever agree with anyone who would call Katharine Parr boring, I do like your take on these two wives of endlessly-fascinating Henry VIII. What better proof than he, of the statement “absolute power corrupts absolutely”?

    • Tania

      I don’t know if I’d call them the most interesting. Certainly the most tragic. I don’t really equate those two. I truly think Henry had good taste in women. He just was absolutely insane when it came to breaking up with them.

    • JennyWren

      Poor little Catherine. I mean, let’s be honest, she was clearly dumb as a box of rocks, but Henry really was not, and he frankly should have had a little more self-awareness about the whole thing. I think it’s also telling that no-one had the stones to tell him to his face what was happening- someone left a letter in his private chapel instead.
      As for Anne, I always think it’s interesting how people divide so dramatically over her. I think it’s pretty much a sign of how little we’ve moved on as a society that she’s either a martyr or a whore. Probably she wasn’t a saint- court life back then was circuitous and highly nuanced and she played the game along with everyone else. But, honestly, what was her alternative? Henry wouldn’t have left her alone because kings got what they damn well wanted back then (or at any rate, Henry got what he damn well wanted) so she either had to accept being another notch on his already pretty maligned belt or gamble for the throne.I think she played out her situation about as well as anyone would have.
      I always wonder about what might have happened had she had a son (she suffered a few miscarriages, I understand, which was not unusual back then). Would Henry have eventually gotten bored of her anyway? Would she have tolerated his mistresses like Catherine of Aragon did? Would they have eventually ended up hating each other’s guts from across the dinner table? Or would she have been as adored as Jane Seymour?

    • Selahmarie11

      Katherine of Aragon was amazing. Anne of Cleves’ story is short, but also amazing. These two are the smartest and most wise of his wives, imho.

    • Lalaland784

      I love Shelved Dolls! Learn so much about amazing women in history without falling asleep! Great engaging writing style!