>> Saturday, August 8, 2009
The Mother did a fantastic job of answering my questions. I'm going to include her answers here and just expand if I happen to have any additional tidbits. She didn't get a damn things wrong.
Us docs currently believe that Henry, a well-known philander all his life, had syphilis. His first children with the first two wives were fairly healthy, followed by numerous stillbirths and miscarriages, classic for syphilis. I tend to agree and I'm not even a doctor.
1st wife: Catherine of Aragon, his brother's widow (whom he married to maintain the Spanish ties and dowry), which is what he used to divorce her years later when she failed to give him the required son. 24 years later, as a matter of fact and, while all records call Catherine of Aragon a devoted wife, the same cannot be said of her husband. Catherine was also daughter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain who were rather vehemently Catholic (starting the Spanish Inquisition). She had one child, a daughter, Mary, who later became queen (the last unabashedly Catholic monarch in England).
Anne Boleyn, who also failed to produce son, discarded with a frame up job, convicted of witchcraft and incest (with her brother). Much is made of Anne Boleyn largely because she used Henry's obsession with her to force him to throw his wife over. He'd already had an affair with her sister (which produced a bastard boy) and Anne did not want the same treatment apparently. Elizabeth was born shortly after Henry's hurried divorce and remarriage. A son was later born stillborn which many historians consider her Anne Boleyn's death sentence.
An interesting note. At a time when royal houses intermarried frequently and in-breeding was the order of the day (see the Spanish royal house), King Henry marrying so many of his own countrywomen was quite unusual. In fact, other than Anne Hyde's marriage to the ill-fated James II, no other British monarch or heir presumptive has married and English bride until the current Prince of Wales married Diana Spencer (although George VI married a Scottish bride at a time he did not expect to get the throne so there was an additional British Queen).
Jane Seymour, who did manage to produce the required son, but died of the dreaded puerperal fever after a very difficult labor. (Edward was sickly all his life and probably had congenital syphilis). The only wife to produce a son and the only wife to leave the marriage via death by natural causes.
Anne of Cleeves, not apparently a beauty, who Henry married without meeting her. She wasn't up to snuff and he divorced her as soon as his lawyers could figure out how to make it work (incidentally, Cromwell lost his head over this whole incident). The dislike was reputedly mutual.
Catherine Howard, who was convicted of adultery shortly thereafter. She probably really did it, which says something about her intellect. She was also a cousin to Anne Boleyn (who was almost undoubtedly innocent of the charges). Catherine Howard was also nineteen to Henry's forty-nine and it wasn't as though he set a good example.
Catherine Parr, a maternal figure who attempted to mend fences between Henry and his two daughters. She also took custody of Elizabeth after Henry died. Catherine Parr had already buried two husbands when she married Henry and married Jane Seymour's brother Thomas after Henry VIII kicked off.
As for his legacy: The protestant conversion of England was the biggie. He did it entirely because he wanted rid of Catherine of Aragon, and then he figured out that it could be a real source of wealth, as he shut down monasteries and confiscated their wealth. The impetus for the break with Rome was his lust for Anne Boleyn, but his ego took extraordinarily well to leading his own church. The callous treatment of Catherine of Aragon hardly endeared him to his former in-laws, Spain's ruling couple. And, the ever money-hungry Henry undoubtedly envied the considerable gold Spain made on their overseas conquests.
Failing to produce a protestant male heir who could live long enough to reproduce, though, left England in a religious war for the next twenty years. The strife with Spain might have eased with Mary's marriage to her cousin, Phillip II of Spain, but the internal strife increased. Finally, Elizabeth took the throne and cooled everything off by attempting to be reasonable about the whole religion thing. She also was a major patron of the English pirates who were exploring the new world, largely to prevent Catholic Spain from controlling yet another continent. This is probably the biggest lasting impact of Henry's syphilis on America--without it, we'd all be speaking French and Spanish. Although Phillip II wooed Elizabeth as well, there was a lot of bitterness toward the "bastard" Elizabeth and the protestant/Catholic chasm made it possible for her to sanction the piracy The Mother mentions (which made the pirates richer and the Crown as well). The different religious factions who were treated contemptuously also became the ones most likely to move on to colonies. Those experience from Quakers and the like not only meant our ties were largely to Protestant Europe, but also laid the groundwork for one of the founding Principles of the United States: Freedom of Religion.