Henry The VIII
Alison Weir
History | Ballantine | Hardcover | May 2001 | $28.00 | 0-345-43659-8
 
 
 
 

 

 

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Katherine 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

Buckingham 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.

It appears 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.

The Stafford 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.

That 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.

In 1533, 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."

Wolsey 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

For all 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

Henry 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:

Within this tower
There lieth a flower
That hath my heart . .

Whereupon the foul-minded Flammock added:

Within this hour
She pissed full sour
And let a fart.

Henry 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 in battle.57

This innate 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.

Henry 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.

The King 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.

One tale 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 sister Mary.

"Never with the mother," Henry said.

"Nor never 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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