We asked Vivienne Brereton to share with you a few personal opinions she has about the Tudor period she writes about in her book The House of the Red Duke. Our questions and her answers are below.
Was Catherine of Aragon a virgin when she married King Henry VIII after the death of his brother, Arthur?
No. Even though she was risking damnation of her soul by lying until her very last confession on this earth. She badly wanted to marry Henry and then, years later, when divorce was first mooted, she had her daughter’s interests to think of. And a mother’s love knows no bounds. Having said that, we are talking about two very young teenagers, fifteen and sixteen so it is possible that full intercourse never took place, even though it was attempted.
What was it like writing about Anne Boleyn?
Anne was the one character in my novel I found elusive. I had no problem with any of the others but she had a quality about her as if she was the hind in Thomas Wyatt’s poem. And was still saying five hundred years later, that she’s: ‘wild for to hold, though I may seem tame.’
Did Henry love Anne?
I think Henry was a complex, troubled character, a legacy of a difficult childhood where he lost his beloved mother at the age of eleven, and as the spare to Arthur, the heir, was not brought up to reign. Of course, he fell desperately, passionately, dangerously in love with Anne, but as far as he was concerned, she let him down. Broke her promise and her side of the bargain to give him a son and heir. After so many years of disappointment with Catherine, he couldn’t go through it again. Also, by the standards of the time, by her last miscarriage in January 1536, Anne was positively middle-aged at 35. Having said that, if she’d carried the baby to term and it had been a boy (or twin boys!), her place next to Henry would have been assured for the rest of her days.
Did Anne love Henry?
Their relationship was multi-layered. At the beginning, he definitely pursued her, and let everyone know she was his and his alone. As Thomas Wyatt put it: ‘Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am.’ For a very long time, Anne could do no wrong in Henry’s eyes and he was prepared to wait for her and her precious virginity. But as the years passed, and the divorce dragged on, she knew her fertility was dwindling. Even though she was finally crowned in 1533, it all came too late for her. She gave the King a healthy child but not the prince he needed. She was never allowed to rest and recover her strength and was doomed to miscarry over and over again. I do think if she’d given Henry a son or even two, their relationship would have matured into the very deep love that follows a first heady infatuation.
What would Henry V111 make of his reputation today?
Although I think he would be very happy to be remembered five hundred years on in a way that he is a household name, he wouldn’t like to be thought of as a slight figure of fun. He was a very proud man, very careful to do the ‘right thing’ and as far as he was concerned, marrying six times was the sacrifice he was prepared to make for his country. The idea of him sitting at the high table, swinging a chicken leg, slurping his drink and belching, is so far removed from the truth, he might find that amusing.
Did he ever show any remorse for what he’d done to Anne?
Her name was never mentioned again. It must have been unbearable for their daughter, Elizabeth, to gradually realize what fate her own father had ordered for her mother. The irony is that Henry, as a heartbroken little eleven-year-old, losing his own mother, was left, on May 19th, 1536, the father of two motherless children, and by October, 1537, that number had risen to three. Only Edward, his heir, had the satisfaction of thinking his father had loved his mother. As for Mary and Elizabeth, they were only too aware of his feelings towards their mothers. As a rather nice postscript, Elizabeth wore a locket containing an image of her mother for all her days.
What about the theory that Henry suffered brain damage after a serious fall at a tournament in Greenwich in 1536 which Anne claimed caused her to miscarry, and altered his personality?
Although this has been dismissed by many historians, for me, it might have a grain of truth. We’ll never know because reports from the time differ. According to those sent to the French King, Henry was unconscious for two hours and onlookers feared for his life. On the other hand, the Imperial ambassador, Chapuys reported that the King was unhurt.
What was it like being part of a large, powerful family like the Howards?
During the reign of Henry VIII, certain families such as the Howards, Percys, Staffords, Seymours etc; all jockeyed for prime position at court. It wasn’t an even playing field, however, because some were still recovering from backing the wrong horse at Bosworth Field, supporting Richard III and not Henry Tudor. This was the case with the Howards. At their head, was a remarkable old man, Thomas Howard, who slowly led his family back to the pinnacle of wealth and power. But it came at a high price. Two of the ‘Howard’ girls, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were sacrificed on the altar of ambition.
What would a 21st century therapist make of Henry VIII?
I think it would be as if all their Christmases had come at once. A young orphaned teenage boy of 17 inherits the throne of England, giving him power and wealth beyond his wildest dreams. He has no surviving uncles to help and guide him, and a domineering grandmother who only survived long enough to see him come to the throne. Her story ended after choking on a piece of swan. Henry immediately marries his dead brother’s widow in the hope that her father, Ferdinand of Spain, will help him recapture France. He also knows Catherine very well because she remained in England after Arthur’s death. From the day he first comes to the throne, he is constantly praised, feted and petted. No wonder he developed such a huge ego. He has far-reaching powers and ultimately what he says, counts. But he is also highly intelligent and very well-educated so navigates a careful and cautious path, using advisors from his father’s old regime.
If only Catherine had given him a healthy brood of sons and daughters, he would have been a happy, fulfilled man. But she didn’t and, as they say…the rest is history.