Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Tudors Cheat Sheet: Children of Henry VIII

One of the biggest issues that carries through all four seasons of The Tudors is Henry VIII's children--who they are, what they are, when they came along...the avid watcher hears about this from episode one straight through until the end of the series.

Historically speaking, was this as big an issue for the real Henry VIII as it was for the TV character? I'm honestly not as certain as other historians are about that. I believe that his problems centered more on the here and now rather than what was going to happen after he died. For example, many historians believe that the end of Henry VIII's spectacular love affair with Anne Boleyn had more to do with Anne's inability to give him his longed-for son than Henry himself, Anne herself, or the relationship they created together. I disagree. Perhaps David Starkey, an English historian, came closest to the truth when he surmised that Henry was unusual in that he seemed to be seeking happiness in marriage at a time when marriage was often noted to produce the opposite effect. I am not sure that hits the nail on the head, so to speak, but it is the first hypothesis I have ever read that took something OTHER than a preoccupation with children into account to explain Henry VIII's rather bizarre marital behavior.

Here is some background information about Henry's acknowledged children. Henry had four living children that he acknowledged as his own in one way or another. It should be noted that although he declared his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, bastards at one time or another, there is no indication that he did not consider them his own, natural children. To be "bastardized" was more of a function of the law to prevent inheritance of lands or titles rather than a mark of suspicious parentage in this case. There has also been speculation that one or more of the children of Mary Boleyn, older sister to Anne, may have been Henry's, but, as he never acknowledged them, they will not be considered here.


Birth Year: 1516
Death Year: 1558
Mother: Catherine of Aragon
Spouse: Philip of Spain (1554)

Mary was Henry's first living child, and she was a very welcome addition to the family. Henry married Mary's mother, Catherine of Aragon, in 1509, and a series of failed pregnancies followed. Mary was a bright, if pensive, child. She was betrothed to several of Europe's most eligible bachelors during her childhood, but none of them came to fruition as England's status, and religious unity, was regularly in question. Abroad, no one questioned Mary's legitimacy. Catherine had an impeccable reputation of fidelity.

Problems in Mary's life began at the same time as Catherine's divorce. All signs point to the fact that Henry wanted to have his way, and his way meant putting aside his first wife, putting aside his daughter if necessary, and having Anne Boleyn by his side.
Catherine was defiant, as was Mary to a point, and this only raised Henry's ire and probably precipitated Henry's breach with Mary early in her life. Henry's subsequent queens were instrumental in bringing father and daughter back together later in his reign.

What Happened to Mary?

After Henry VIII died, many attempts were made to marginalize Mary by the primarily-Protestant members of her brother, Edward's, council. The ultimate result of this was an attempt to write both Mary and Elizabeth out of the line of succession and pass the crown on from Edward to Jane Grey, their cousin. This attempt was a huge failure--Edward's council did not count on the fact that the English people fervently supported the rights of other members of Henry's immediate family to sit on the throne. Mary became queen in 1553 and married Philip of Spain, who made only a few brief trips to England. Mary died in 1558 of what may have been ovarian or uterine cancer, but she may have succumbed to an influenza epidemic that was raging at the time she took particularly ill. Mary and Philip had no children.


Birth Year: 1533
Death Year: 1603
Mother: Anne Boleyn
Spouse: None

Elizabeth, known by all TV series, movies, and by a famous quote by Henry about "boys will follow," as the disappointment, was the first, and only, living child born to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. We'd like to think that had Henry VIII known how successful and famous Elizabeth would later be, he may have treated his daughter a bit differently. Elizabeth was known to be as bright as Mary, but seemingly more clever, quick-witted, and able to work with (and around) others. As soon as her mother was accused of adultery, Elizabeth's position, and future, were altered. She, like Mary, was declared a bastard, and her relationship with her father was strained. She was also reconciled to him by his subsequent wives.

Elizabeth was unofficially Protestant, and she was subsequently left alone during Edward's reign, but after Edward died, her life became more complicated. Elizabeth was implicated in a rebellion started by Thomas Wyatt, not against Catholicism, but instead against Mary's determination to marry Philip of Spain. This led to Elizabeth's brief imprisonment and interrogation in the Tower of London and her living most of the rest of Mary's reign under house arrest.

What Happened to Elizabeth?

I think we all know the answer to this question, so I will not belabor the point. Elizabeth succeeded her sister Mary in 1558, and she reigned for about 45 successful years. Many aspects of her reign have been examined and discussed by scholars, including her involvement in piracy, religious policy, her relationship with court favorites like Robert Dudley, her key advisers, and the issue of Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth, from most historians' perspectives, was the most successful of Henry's children given a "Golden Age" takes her name.


Birth Year: 1537
Death Year: 1553
Mother: Jane Seymour
Spouse: None

Edward, supposedly Henry's longed-for son, was the product of the very brief marriage of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Edward was only 9 when Henry died, and this necessitated the creation of a Regency Council to raise, rule, and advise Edward until he reached an age of majority. The main player on this council was Edward Seymour, Jane's brother, and there has been a lot of speculation about his machinations before and during this time. Some historians believe that he may have actually altered Henry VIII's will. Edward Seymour later fell from power and was replaced by John Dudley.

Edward was a bright child, if easily led by his two power-hungry uncles--Edward and his brother, Thomas Seymour. He was educated and influenced by a Protestant circle, and this led to a breach between he and his Catholic sister, Mary. Edward was thoughtful, and he was clearly raised to be a king. Under the guidance of his council, he furthered Protestant reform in England to probably the most extreme degree it would get to until the 17th century.

What happened to Edward?

Edward died very young in 1553. It isn't clear what the cause of death was--at the beginning of 1553, he started with a fever and a cough that gradually grew worse. An autopsy revealed that his lungs were to blame, and a diagnosis of tuberculous was proposed and is generally accepted. Some historians have postulated that he could have succumbed to some form of poisoning as well, but this has never been proven particularly convincingly. Jane Grey, written into Edward's plans for the succession as next in line to the throne, famously followed Edward's death with a reign of nine days. John Dudley, thought to be the author of this alteration, didn't count on Mary's popularity, and both he and Jane were later executed.

Henry Fitzroy

Birth Year: 1519
Death Year: 1536
Mother: Elizabeth Blount
Spouse: Lady Mary Howard

One of the biggest errors in The Tudors is in Henry Fitzroy's story. According to the series, Henry dies at the age of 5 or 6, which completely devastates Henry VIII. In reality, Henry Fitzroy was well into his teen years before he died, and he was married, too.

Henry was the illegitimate product of Henry VIII's relationship with Elizabeth Blount, lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon. Although The Tudors makes Henry VIII appear to be the worst of 16th century fratboys when it comes to women, the evidence is greatly to the contrary. Henry seems to have had more longer-term relationships with the few mistresses he took. Henry's relationship with Elizabeth Blount seems to have entirely ended after Henry Fitzroy's birth.She married Gilbert Talboys, but Henry Fitzroy did not enter the scene until he was around six years old and the shower of titles and appointments started. His first were some of the most important--Earl of Nottingham and Duke of Richmond and Somerset. He was also given the title Lord High Admiral of England and Lord President of the Council of the North. There is no question that Henry VIII was preparing his son for great things. Whether or not he considered him a potential solution to his lack of male children is another question, though, and it calls into consideration whether Henry VIII may have considered not having a legitimate son a problem at all. Since many historians think that Henry WAS bothered by this fact, they point to a brief period in Henry VIII's life when he seems to have marked out Henry Fitzroy as his heir, but this is only speculative.

What Happened to Henry Fitzroy?

In 1533, Henry Fitzroy was married to Lady Mary Howard, the daughter of Thomas Howard, the powerful Duke of Norfolk. Henry Fitzroy was noticed to be somewhat sickly perhaps a year or so before his death, and he died rather suddenly in 1536. Because Henry VIII took such an interest in his life and upbringing, it can be speculated that Henry was probably very moved by his son's death. Whether this increased an inclination for male children, though, is another matter.

Images (Historical):

Mary I by Hans Eworth c. 1555-1558

Elizabeth Tudor, Flemish School, c. 1546

Edward VI, circle of William Scrots

Henry Fitzroy, Lucas Hornebolte

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