• Tue, Oct 9 2012

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

To be fair, Henry VIII was completely infatuated with her during that period. Unlike her cousin Anne, Catherine was not at all hesitant about returning Henry’s affections. God knows why. They say she wasn’t very bright, though she could read and write, which meant she was more educated than most women of the time. You would think  given that Henry had already killed her cousin, and divorced his previous wife (Anne of Cleves) because he didn’t like her looks, she might have been more hesitant. (Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, who gave him his only male heir and died in childbirth, is completely boring.)

But she wasn’t! In spite of the fact that at that time she considered her lover Francis Dereham her “husband.”

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. Francis may or may not have been her husband depending upon how much they talked about him being her husband. The rules on marriage during the 16th century were a little peculiar. For instance, if a couple said they intended to marry, and then had sexual intercourse, they were considered married in the eyes of the Church. That was true even if they only said that to one another. The question really arose on how many people they mentioned their intention to, because if they only talked about it themselves, one or both parties might claim that they hadn’t had that discussion. While this practice no doubt saved everyone a ton of money on wedding costs, it did make determining whether or not someone was “married” more complicated.

Again, it was not a great idea for Catherine to tell Henry she was a virgin, but she couldn’t marry him otherwise. Remember – it is not a great idea to start your marriage to a known wife-beheader with a lie that would really upset him.

Catherine's is zero!

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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!