Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn
Queen Elizabeth I
Birth of a Princess
Although there was no law in Tudor England preventing the accession of a woman to the throne as there was in France, the rule of a woman was considered undesirable. It was believed by many, including King Henry VIII, that a woman could not rule very well. Henry was thus desperate to father a son to succeed him, but while he had many children with Catherine of Aragon, only one survived infancy: a daughter, Princess Mary. It was clear to Henry that he would never have a son by Catherine (as her childbearing days were coming to an end) and this troubled Henry considerably. To complicate matters he had fallen deeply in love with the young and dazzling Anne Boleyn and wanted to make her his bride.
To marry Anne, however, Henry had to have his marriage to Catherine annulled, and annulling a marriage was never a simple process. For Henry, it proved colossal. England was, at this time, a Roman Catholic country, and the power to annul marriages lay with the Pope. Unfortunately for Henry, Catherine had very powerful family connections, which made his plight all the harder. Catherine was the aunt of the great Emperor, Charles V, and the Pope could not afford to offend Charles by granting Henry his annulment. The Pope insisted on a trial to determine the validity of the King's marriage, but as time progressed, and the Pope had still not made a decision, it became clear to Henry that if he wanted to marry again, he would have to find a way of obtaining an annulment without the Pope's assistance.
Queen Catherine Pleads
Henry and his advisors found the answer in breaking with the Catholic Church completely, and establishing an independent
Church of England. This would give Henry complete power over matters ecclesiastical. This revolutionary step was made
possible by the emergence in Europe at this time of a new branch of Christianity that rapidly gained the name of
Protestantism. This had very important doctrinal differences to Catholicism, but Henry's prime concern was ousting
the power of the Pope. In many ways the new English Church remained essentially Catholic. But the change of official
religion (known as the Reformation ) had far reaching effects on England. For centuries, monks, nuns and friars had
been an integral aspect of English life, but with the old Church, this way of life came to an end. The monasteries were
closed, and the monks, nuns, and friars, were forced into the towns and cities. They were granted a life pension so
that they could look after themselves, and many found a new livelihood, but others fell into poverty and became beggars.
Now that Henry was Supreme Head of the Church in England, he could get his annulment. In the January of 1533 he married Anne Boleyn, who was already expecting his child. In the July of that year, although heavily pregnant, Anne was given a magnificent coronation. She and Catherine of Aragon were the only ones of Henry's wives to be formally crowned Queen of England. Both Henry and Anne believed with their whole heart that the child she was expecting was a boy, and they had every reason to as the philosophers and astronomers assured the jubilant king that this time he would have a son. All the signs, they said, told them the baby was going to be a great ruler. That could only mean one thing: a boy.
But the baby born on the 7th of September 1533 proved to be a girl. This was disastrous, and no one felt the disaster more than Henry. He had moved mountains to marry Anne, had overridden the Pope, the Emperor, lost friends, lost the Church that he had once been a proud defender of, torn down the abbeys and monasteries, and put men to death whose only crime was their faith; all for what he already had, a daughter. He felt the humiliation deeply, and felt once again that he had not been blessed by God. There was little celebration at baby Elizabeth's birth. Bonfires were lit through out the land but with little enthusiasm. Anne Boleyn was unpopular. Many blamed her for the religious changes in the land and for the king's rejection of Catherine, who they had loved. However, Elizabeth was given a magnificent Christening at Greenwich when she was only three days old.
Read a contemporary account of Elizabeth's christening
From Elizabeth's birth onwards, Henry's feelings for the woman he had once loved passionately began to cool. His attention was taken by the other attractive ladies surrounding her, and he was openly tired of Anne's company. But while Anne was still Queen of England, Elizabeth's life was comfortable. She had been granted her own household at the Royal Palace of Hatfield, and her mother saw to it that she was well cared for. Amongst those attending the new Princess was her half sister, Princess Mary, now Lady as she was made illegitimate at the annulling of her mother's marriage to the King. Only the heir to the throne could be prince or princess in England, and as an illegitimate offspring, Mary was no longer in line to the throne. This was a cruel twist of fate, and Mary understandably resented having to serve the daughter of the woman who had replaced her mother. Elizabeth's governess at this time was Margaret, Lady Bryan. She was Elizabeth's chief carer and responsible for her well-being. It was customary for royal children to live apart from their parents, although Anne ensured that she saw Elizabeth regularly.
Without a doubt, had Elizabeth been a boy, or had Anne borne Henry a son in the years immediately following her daughter's birth, then Anne's fate would have been very different. But like Catherine before her, Anne did not make this provision. Some time after Elizabeth's birth, she suffered a miscarriage, and later gave premature birth to a dead male child. It has been said, quite aptly, that she miscarried of her saviour. The same doubts that had plagued Henry over his marriage to Catherine now plagued him over his marriage to Anne and as time went on these doubts grew. When Catherine of Aragon died, possibly of cancer, Henry was free to dispose of Anne without facing petitions to take Catherine back. Anne's days were numbered. She was accused (probably falsely) of witchcraft, adultery, and incest, and was arrested and taken to the Tower of London.
Anne was then put on trial and found guilty of all she was accused. The verdict was a foregone conculsion and the punishment was death. It was up to Henry how she died, decapitation or burning, and Henry chose the former. The customary method of execution was to cut off the head with an axe, but Anne requested to be put to death by the sword. Henry granted her wish and a swordsman was brought over from France as there was no one in England skilled enough to do it. Anne was beheaded on Tower Green on the 19 of May of 1536. Elizabeth was only two and a half years old.
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