was now pregnant again, but there is evidence that Henry was
straying already from her bed. On 28 May, Luis Caroz, whose
ac-count, which seems to derive from court gossip, is the
only one to refer to this incident, reported:
What lately has happened is that two sisters of
the Duke of Buc-ingham, both married, lived in the palace.
One of them is the favourite of the Queen, and the other,
it is said, is much liked by the King, who went after her.
Another version is that the love intrigues were not of the
King, but of a young man, his favourite, by the name of Compton,
who carried on the love intrigue, as it is said, for the King,
and that is the more credible version, as the King has shown
great displeasure at what I am going to tell. The favourite
of the Queen has been very anxious in the matter of her sister,
and has joined herself with the Duke her brother, with her
husband and her sister's husband, in order to consult on what
should be done. The consequences [were] that, whilst the Duke
was in the private apartments of his sister, who was suspected
with the King, Compton came there to talk with her, saw the
Duke, who intercepted him, quarrelled with him, and the end
of it was that he was severely reproached in many very hard
words. The King was so offended at this that he reprimanded
the Duke angrily. The same night, the Duke left the palace,
and did not return for some days. At the same time, the husband
of that lady went away, carried her off, and placed her in
a convent sixty miles from here, that no one may see her.
The King, having understood that all this proceeded from the
sister who is the favourite of the Queen, the day after the
one was gone turned the other out of the palace, and her husband
with her. Believing that there were other women in the employment
of the favourite such as go about the palace insidiously spying
out every unwatched movement in order to tell the Queen, the
King would have liked to turn all of them out, only that it
has appeared to him too great a scandal. Afterwards, almost
all the court knew that the Queen had been vexed with the
King, and the King with her, and thus the storm went on between
them. The Queen by no means conceals her ill-will towards
Compton, and the King is very sorry for it.44
had two sisters: Anne, wife of Sir George Hastings, later
Earl of Huntingdon, and Elizabeth, wife of Robert Ratcliffe,
Lord FitzWalter, were both ladies-in-waiting to Queen Katherine.
It is not clear from this account which of them was the object
of the King's affections and which the informer, but Compton
is known to have lived for a time in an adulterous relationship
with Lady Hastings, and at Compton he later founded a chantry
where prayers were said daily for her soul and those of his
family members,45 so it is reasonable to suppose that it was
she who was at the centre of this scandal. According to Caroz's
account, though, it sounds very much as if Compton at this
stage was acting as a go-between for the King and the lady.
Caroz thought so, and had this not been the case, the Queen
would surely not have reacted so angrily, even though she
would naturally have been upset at a close attendant being
so publicly disgraced, since it reflected upon her own honour
and reputation. The fact that her ladies were going about
the court spying on the King suggests that Katherine had already
had her suspicions.
also that the King had not gone as far as he would have wished
with the lady when the affair came to light, which would ac-count
in part for his angry reaction. He was also characteristically
touchy about the matter being exposed; in all his extramarital
affairs, he went to great lengths to maintain the utmost discretion,
which is why the surviving evidence for them is at best fragmentary.
What little we do have suggests that Henry usually strayed
when his wives were pregnant, when marital intercourse would
have been taboo, especially as the future security of his
dynasty was increasingly at stake. This evidence reinforces
the view that Henry regarded sex within marriage as being
chiefly for pro-creational purposes: pleasure was something
men pursued outside the nuptial bed.
affair taught Katherine a humiliating lesson, that it was
useless to remonstrate with her husband in such cases. Like
many men of his time, Henry regarded it as his prerogative
to pursue other ladies, while at the same time expecting his
wife to stay chaste, and she soon realised that, in order
to preserve her dignity and avoid mortifying public rows,
she should shut her eyes to his extramarital affairs and be
grateful that he did not shame her by flaunting them.
there were affairs we cannot doubt. Although the pieces of
evidence are fractional, taken as a whole they are overwhelming.
In 1515 Giustinian described Henry as being "free from every
vice,"46 yet in that same year a French ambassador in Rome
stated that the King was "a youngling [who] cares for nothing
but girls and hunting and wastes his father's patrimony"47
--much to the distress of the English ambassador at the Vatican,
who thought such words disrespectful to his sovereign. George
Wyatt, the grandson of Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry's court poet,
refers to the King abandoning his pursuit of a lady when his
friend Sir Francis Bryan revealed an interest in her. Henry
may also have enjoyed the favours of Bryan's gorgeous sister
Elizabeth, who was married to an-other favoured courtier,
Sir Nicholas Carew; the King gave her "many beautiful diamonds
and pearls and innumerable jewels" that were, strictly speaking,
the property of the Queen.48 When, sometime before 1528, the
King had an affair with the volatile Mrs. Amadas, wife of
Robert Amadas, the Master of his Jewel House, that lady, who
was given to tantrums and strange visions, made no secret
of the fact that William Compton had made his house in Thames
Street available for their trysts 49 --a cir-cumstance that
gives credence to Caroz's assertion that Compton had acted
for Henry in the Stafford affair.
Reginald Pole, the King's cousin, declared that Anne Boleyn,
in refusing to sleep with Henry, had borne in mind "how soon
he was sated with those who had served him as his mistress."50
The King's physician, Dr. John Chamber, described his master
as being "overly fond of women" and given to "lustful dreams."51
Even William Thomas, who wrote a laudatory biography of his
master around the time of Henry's death, admitted that "it
cannot be denied but that he was a very fleshly man, and no
marvel, for albeit his father brought him up in good learn-ing,
yet after he fell into all riot and overmuch love of women."
was accused by his enemies of being "the King's bawd, showing
him what women were most wholesome and best of complexions,"52
and although he vigorously denied the charge, it is not entirely
implausible. A later Catholic observer claimed that "King
Henry gave his mind to three notorious vices--lechery, covetousness
and cruelty, but the two latter issued and sprang out of the
former."53 The Elizabethan courtier Sir Robert Naunton later
stated what was by then well known, that Henry never spared
a man in his anger nor a woman in his lust.54
this, Henry considered himself a paragon of virtue, and it
is often said that, compared with other rulers such as Edward
IV and Francis I, he was. But the truth is that he was an
inhibited man who was far more discreet about his amours than
most kings. The fact that he had separate apartments from
the Queen, and visited her bed only at his own instigation,
made covert infidelity that much easier. Despite what Pole
claimed, some of Henry's affairs went on in private for years,
as will be seen. There is evidence that he used Greenwich
Castle, the former Duke Humphrey's Tower, which he refurbished
in 1526 and renamed Mire-flore, as a residence for his mistresses.55
was never coarse in speech, nor did he appreciate bawdy jokes.
Once, when travelling by barge to Greenwich Castle to visit
"a fair lady whom he loved and lodged in the tower of the
park" (her identity is unknown), he was "disposed to be merry"
and challenged Sir Andrew Flammock to complete a verse for
him. Henry began it:
There lieth a flower
That hath my heart . .
the foul-minded Flammock added:
She pissed full sour
And let a fart.
was so offended that he spluttered, "Begone, varlet!" and
waved the man out of his sight.56 In 1542, Sir William Paget
felt he ought to apologise for having to report King Francis
I's "unseemly" declaration that he would rather "give his
daughter to be a strumpet of the bordello" than face the Emperor
prudishness manifested itself in other ways. Henry, who had
three marriages annulled, angrily censured his sister Margaret
when she divorced her husband in order to marry another man.
He was harsh on the prostitutes who followed his armies, and
rigorous in suppressing the brothels that had disfigured the
Southwark shore of the Thames for centuries.
could be openly demonstrative towards the women he loved,
but never embarrassingly so. It has been suggested that he
was not an in-spiring or romantic lover, but his letters to
Anne Boleyn, which will be quoted later, prove that he was
capable of deep passion and sentimental feeling. The fact
that Anne Boleyn held him off for at least six years proves
not that Henry lacked ardour, but that he was too much of
a knight and a gentleman to resort to rape.
acknowledged only one bastard, although rumour credited him
with more; this was probably the result of luck or carefulness.
Some writers have suggested that it implies a low level of
fertility, but that does not take account of the fact that
Henry repeatedly impregnated his first two wives. It has also
been suggested that, given his assertion that two of his marriages
were incestuous and therefore unlawful,58 Henry was the victim
of an Oedipus complex, but in fact this was a quite legitimate
plea to make in each case, and not enough is known of Henry's
relationship with his mother to justify such a claim.
told about the King was certainly apocryphal. Sir Thomas More's
nephew, William Rastell, and the Jesuit exile Nicholas Sander,
who in 1585 wrote a Catholic treatise damning Henry and his
second wife, Anne Boleyn, both claimed that Anne was the fruit
of an early affair between the King and her mother, Elizabeth
Howard. The story was certainly current at court, and in 1535
a Member of Parliament, Sir George Throckmorton, accused Henry
to his face of "meddling" with both Anne's mother and her
with the mother," Henry said.
with the sister either," lied Cromwell,59 who was standing
by and must have been well aware that the King had had an
affair with Mary Boleyn (of which more will be related later).
But Henry was probably under ten when Anne was conceived,
and could not possibly have been her father. Yet there may
have been smoke without fire. Despite his denial, an early
liaison, while he was perhaps in his teens, with Lady Boleyn
cannot be ruled out.
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