“My wife wears a hair shirt! She won’t give me the son I need. I’m young. I can still have a family.”
Katherine has been a loving and devoted wife to Henry for over 20 years. Unfortunately, their marriage has fallen into one of the oldest traps known to man – The Trophy Wife! Katherine believes her wedding vows are sacred and unbreakable, and that it is her destiny to be queen. Henry believes in his divine right to sire a legitimate son. Can these two overcome their tragedies and expectations and find the love they once shared? Or is Christendom about to split apart?
I loved my husband, Henry Tudor, from the moment we met. Not in a romantic sense since I was sixteen and he was ten. I was betrothed to his eldest brother, Prince Arthur, and destined to one day be Queen of England.
Henry was being groomed for a religious life, and given his energy and charm, I have no doubts that had he continued along this path, he would have become the second English pope.
When we first met, he solemnly bowed quite low and kissed my hand, then he gave me such a cheeky grin that I had to laugh. Throughout the days leading up to my wedding he provided one of the few bright spots in otherwise staid and gloomy days. He made me laugh and made me happy.
After having spent the first 16 years of my life in the warm sunshine of Spain, England was a shock to me. Even the best castles were dank and dreary, and everything dripped. The trees dripped, the buildings dripped, moisture ran down the walls and the damp permeated our heavy clothing. I often wondered if I would ever be warm again.
While Henry was warm and fun-loving, his brother, Arthur, was quite reserved and seemed content to follow the strictures set forth for him, mainly by My Lady The King’s Mother, Margaret Beaufort, Arthur’s grandmother.
It seemed that everyone followed her strictures. She was deeply devout and extremely well educated. She seemed pleased by my religious upbringing and the fact that my mother had insisted on an intensive classical education for her daughters as well as her son. I was happy to have this powerful woman’s approval.
Arthur and I were married with great ceremony and pomp. Funny, sweet Henry escorted me to the church and kept me calm with whispered quips and comments. I found it difficult to keep a straight face, even though I was now the Princess of Wales.
Arthur was a frail boy and half a head shorter than I. Even though we had been betrothed since we were small children, we didn’t speak the same language. We had corresponded in Latin as I had limited English and he spoke no Spanish. But after getting to know him in person, I sadly realized that the wonderful love letters he had sent to me, had been without a doubt, written by his older advisors. I was confused and hurt by this.
I know that everyone thinks that we were “true” man and wife. We were young and left alone at Ludlow Castle for months before Arthur became ill and shockingly died. But today I have to say our marriage was never consummated. I often ask myself if I had truly loved Arthur. Did I love him like a sister or as a wife? It’s all become quite foggy over the years. It’s hard to remember that time…yet now it’s all my husband can talk about. He’s desperate to know what happened between Arthur and me, yet won’t believe what I tell him.
After Arthur died, the next five years of my life were very difficult. To keep my rather impressive dowry, old Henry VII betrothed me to young Henry. But I never felt secure. My father and King Henry wrangled over my dowry, neither considering that I was living with no resources to buy food or clothing or pay my staff. I had to sell my plate and jewelry.
After Queen Elizabeth died there were distressing rumors that the King himself would marry me. No riches or crown would have been worth that horrible prospect. Fortunately, those rumors were false. I believe the hard-bitten, old king genuinely loved his sweet wife.
Even though Henry and I were betrothed, I seldom saw or heard from him. I heard rumors, of course, of great jousting victories and the wrath he incurred from his father for his profligate spending. The few glimpses I had of him, made my heart pound. As he grew to adulthood, he became the living epitome of a Greek God.
When his father died, eighteen-year-old Henry quickly claimed me for his bride. I was shocked and so happy. Henry truly was the handsomest King in all of Christendom and he was my husband. I couldn’t believe it!
We had to ask for a papal dispensation to wed since I had been married to Arthur and there was some nonsense about not marrying your brother’s wife, but Henry seemed so eager to marry me. We had a private wedding and then we were crowned King and Queen of England. While I didn’t think the dispensation mattered at the time, I’m glad now my mother insisted on it.
The following five years were the happiest years of my life. I adored my handsome husband, and worked hard to make his life as pleasant as possible. I sewed his shirts, ordered his favorite foods and managed the domestic side of his estates with the help of his advisors. We both loved dancing and music. Henry, in particular, was extremely talented; he wrote poems and songs for me. We both loved education and enjoyed spending time with scholars and philosophers or reading books together. We hunted and went hawking. We rode our horses for hours across the green fields. We often danced until the sun rose.
I not only fell in love with Henry, I totally embraced England and the English people. My ladies and I spent the good part of our days sewing clothing for the poor and arranging food for them. I would often go among the people to listen to their concerns and I would frequently plead their cases to my husband.
In those days, Henry had been generous and compassionate. He encouraged me in my endeavors, including allowing me to endow schools, colleges and hospitals. We attended several masses a day together and always said prayers upon arising, before meals and at bedtime. Our lives were almost perfect.
But to our great disappointment, God did not seem willing to bless us with living children. I had several miscarriages. Henry and I mourned these losses not only as parents, but as sovereigns as well. I knew what my duty as Queen was – to provide an heir – and that wasn’t happening.
But then in 1511 little Prince Henry was born. We were overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving. He was a beautiful baby, small but strong and seemingly healthy. Finally, the son and heir Henry so desperately wanted. Henry celebrated the birth with ceremonies and banquets.
But when the baby was just two months old, Henry and I had just finished attending a joust in the baby’s honor, when news arrived that tore our world apart. Little Prince Henry was dead. There had been no warning. The baby had been fine when he had been put to bed. Henry and I were devastated. This was the first and heaviest blow to the foundation of our marriage. I see this as a turning point for Henry and the way he felt about me. I was a little frightened.
In the following years, disappointment followed disappointment until God heeded our pleas, and I gave birth to Mary, healthy, strong, beautiful, but a girl! Even though Henry proclaimed his delight, I knew he was disappointed in me and in Mary. But Henry did dote on her, making certain that she had the best we could give her. I consulted Thomas More and Erasmus to ensure she had the best education available. I saw no reason why, if no sons were born to us, our daughter could not be crowned Queen of England.
My mother, Isabella of Castile, ruled a larger territory than my father. She had led troops into battle, eventually driving the Moors out of Spain, She was well educated, devout, had many children although only one son (on some occasions she would pause only briefly to give birth and proceed back to her armies within a few days). She and my father encouraged education and were devout Catholics. They were foresighted enough to sponsor explorers to visit the New World to spread Christianity to the heathens as well as searching for treasure.
But no matter how much I shared my mother’s prowess, Henry did not believe as I did that Mary would make a wonderful queen.
I hesitate to speak of this, but Henry (like most royals, including my father) had had his “little flings” with other women, usually chosen from my ladies in waiting.
I suffered pangs of jealousy (and did penance for feeling jealous) but deep down I knew he would return to me. Even when Bessie Blount gave birth to Henry Fitzroy, a son for my husband, I attended the christening with as good grace as I could muster. I was Queen. I knew how to hide my feelings in public and present a serene countenance to the world. My mother had taught me well.
After a time, I began to sense a cooling between us. Henry, still in his prime and still breathtakingly handsome, spent less and less time with me and more time roistering with his noble friends like Charles Brandon. He stopped being discreet in his affairs with other women.
He increasing speaks longingly of having a son and heir. I am no longer the young maiden he married. Time and many pregnancies have thickened my figure. I am no longer able to follow the hunt or dance until dawn.
I have begun in wear a hair shirt to do penance for whatever sins I have committed, both known and unknown. I know that he is trying to find a way to end our marriage. I hear he claims that our marriage was never legal because I was the wife of his brother, and the papal dispensation is not binding. If he carries on like this, I truly fear for his soul.
He thinks I do not know much about Mistress Anne Boleyn. Other ladies in waiting who caught Henry’s eye had the grace to be embarrassed in front of me. Mistress Boleyn fastens her unblinking, jet black eyes on me and I feel as if I am being measured for my shroud. I have heard she is refusing his attentions and one of my ladies told me she is holding out for a wedding ring. Henry thinks this will be easy. That I will acquiesce to whatever he wants as I have done so often in our marriage. Maybe join a convent where I can pray all day for the rest of my life. But I won’t. God made me Queen of England, not Henry.
God blessed our union “until death do us part”. I have a child, a gift from God, and I must protect her and her rights. Most of all, though, I love Henry Tudor. I miss him and will fight with everything I have to keep him my husband. And I know Henry loves Mary and me. If he would only break free from that Boleyn witch’s spell, he would be wholly mine again.
I was born the spare – the second son. My birth was duly noted but I was told the celebrations were far less than those for my older brother, Arthur. After all, he was the heir.
My miserly father, Henry VII was not one to spend coin unless he felt it was warranted. The person who seemed most pleased by my arrival was my mother, Elizabeth of York.
Much of my early youth was spent quietly following a regimen set forth by my grandmother. While Arthur was learning to be king, I was being educated by some of the best minds available. I studied the classics, languages, history and theology. I was trained in horsemanship, weaponry, and other intensive sport. I learned tennis.
On the cultural side I learned to play the organ, the virginal, and the lute. I also learned to compose music and write poetry. If I was mischievous and Mother heard of it, she would ruffle my hair and say how much I reminded her of her father. This only occurred if father and grandmother were out of earshot. I loved hearing Mother’s stories of her larger-than-life father and how he became King of England. Even though Arthur was the heir, I knew I was my mother’s favorite.
When I was ten years old, there was great excitement in the court. Arthur was getting married to the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. This was quite a coup for my father. That such a well-respected European royal house would marry into our family established a sense of legitimacy for the House of Tudor. My father was quite pleased with himself.
After a lengthy and perilous sea journey, Princess Katherine landed in Plymouth and made her way across England. Father, Arthur and I could not wait for her to arrive in London and raced down to meet her en route. I was quite smitten with this exotic creature from such a foreign country. She looked frightened and bewildered by all the fuss over her. When it was my turn to bow and kiss her hand, I looked up and grinned at her. I saw the corners of her mouth twitch and her eyes twinkled at me.
When she reached London, I was appointed her escort. I showed her the elaborate displays built to celebrate her wedding and on the wedding day, I was given the honor of leading her down the aisle (probably because I was one of the few who could be trusted to remember all of grandmother’s rules about how things must be done). Grandmother had planned everything from the wedding ceremony to the banquet to even the bedding ceremony.
I saw very little of Katherine during the next few years. Arthur died at Ludlow four months after the wedding and Katherine was ill with the same disease. It took a long time for her to recover.
My father and King Ferdinand continued to wrangle over the dowry and when the dust finally settled I found myself betrothed to my brother’s widow. I did protest (wanting to choose my own wife) but as usual no one paid attention. After my mother died in childbirth, I felt very lonely. I missed my mother.
My life changed after Arthur’s death. When he remembered, Father would spend a bit of time on kingship lessons, occasionally even tossing some minor tasks my way. At one time there were rumors afloat that Father was considering marrying Katherine himself.
I was 18 years old in 1509 when father died. True to my mother’s predictions, I was 6 feet 2 inches like her father with his coloring and muscular build. I was quite handsome, some say the golden prince of Christendom. How right they are.
To prove myself a man and a king I needed to be married and sire a son to carry on the Tudor dynasty. At 18, I had no doubt that I would soon have a castle full of sons.
For some reason that I can’t even fathom now, I decided to marry Katherine. She was a royal princess and quite pretty, even though she was six years older. Yes, she had been my brother’s wife, but she swore to me they had never consummated their marriage. I chose to believe her. My mistake.
I applied for a dispensation from Rome. Was I half hoping it wouldn’t come through? Looking back now, I think so. I think I was just trying to fulfill my father’s wishes to marry a princess and keep her rather generous dowry. Katherine was a great deal older than me, but she was pretty and so amiable … and I was young and knew little of marital relations. When the dispensation came through, we were hastily married and crowned.
The first few years of our marriage were happy. I admit that. Katherine and I had so many interests in common. She was well educated, devout, and with the removal of her staid Spanish entourage and the passing of my overbearing grandmother, she emerged as a sparkling personality and a full partner in our marriage.
She could beat me at chess and laugh when I pouted. She could keep up with me on long rides across the fields and on the hunts. I often sought her advice on many issues and her opinions were always thoughtful and to the point. My sister Mary loved her and gladly joined with her and her ladies on their charitable activities. The English people adored her. Whenever she was seen on the streets, anywhere in the kingdom, large crowds gather to cheer the “Good Queen Katherine”.
The only things missing in our lives were children. Our first daughter was stillborn. More miscarriages. Then our son, Henry, was born alive, small but seemingly strong. I had my son and for the next two months, I celebrated every time I could. I persuaded Katherine to attend a celebratory tournament when the child was two months old. She did not want to leave him but finally agreed to join me. As the banquet following the tournament was concluding, a dust covered messenger rode up on a sweating horse to bring the news that crushed us both. The baby had died in his cradle. The physicians could give no reasons; the clerics said only that it was God’s will. That was the saddest day in my life. Even now, that sweet little prince touches the very center of my heart, like no other.
Then our daughter, Mary, was born, healthy and strong enough to survive the perils of infancy. As much as I love our daughter, she is not a prince. Should the dynastic troubles of the past flare up after I am gone, I need a prince trained in warfare to hold my kingdom together.
Katherine has not conceived for the past six years. This weighs heavy on me. Have I offended God? Should I have not married my brother’s wife? Is that why my wife cannot give me the son I need?
Things have changed between us. Gone is the merry, lithe, pretty woman I married. She continues to go out of her way to make certain my life is comfortable and well-ordered. She oversees Mary’s education. She continues her intense efforts in providing charity for the unfortunate and the people of England still love their good Queen. But I’m no longer attracted to her as a husband is to a wife. My feelings have changed.
When we spend an evening together, there is little for us to talk about. She exudes the heaviness of the deeply devout. So many times I have come searching for her at night only to find her prostrate on the stone floor before the altar in the chapel, with tears running down her face as she pleads with God for comfort and mercy.
To be honest, I don’t find that religious piety sexually appealing at all. And that hair shirt! Seriously? That’s going to get me all excited to go to her bed, not! The truth is I don’t love her the way I once did, if I ever really did. Did I confuse duty with love?
It’s true I have found relief and comfort in the arms of other women. As King that is my prerogative. But now I have met someone. I’ve fallen in love with a beautiful young woman named Anne Boleyn, one of Katherine’s ladies-in-waiting. Anne is sexy and makes me feel alive and virile once again. I’m tired of sleeping with an old woman who wears a hair shirt.
I’m still a young man. I could still have a family. I need a son. I know that if I married Anne she would give me a son.
I’ve told Katherine that our marriage is over. I’ve suggested that with her piety she should join a convent where she could continue with her prayers and charitable work. She refuses. Whenever I try to discuss it all she says is: “We were married before God and took vows to stay married until death us do part. I am your wife; I am England’s anointed Queen. You have an heir.” Then she blabs on about how great a ruler her mother was.
I cannot believe that Katherine’s being so stubborn about this. She used to be so amiable and agreeable. If ever there was a case for ‘Marry in haste. Repent in Leisure’, my marriage to Katherine is it! But I was young and foolish and felt I had to prove my manhood to be king. I rue the day I married her.
God is punishing me for marrying Arthur’s widow by withholding the blessing of a healthy son. Scripture says it is wicked to marry your brother’s wife. And I have been wicked. It is not too late to repent and receive God’s blessing. If only Katherine would listen to me. For one so devout, she is NOT listening to what God is clearly telling us – that it was a sin for us to marry. All she keeps harping on is Anne Boleyn. I keep telling her, it’s not Anne, it’s God that is telling me to end our sham marriage.
The clergy who went to Rome to plead for a divorce should be back soon. They had best bring the answer I want. I will get that divorce even if I have to destroy the kingdom to do it. England must have a prince!
The Counsellor’s Turn
When Henry and Katherine came to see me, they were very clearly on different wave lengths. Henry barely glanced at his wife, whereas Katherine could not take her eyes off of him.
As one of their subjects, it’s very sad to see how far apart they have grown. But as a professional, I am quite concerned that they will be able to find their way back to each other for the sake of each other’s happiness and the country.
Unlike many brides in arranged marriages, Katherine was quite eager to marry Henry. He was handsome and always had been kind to her. After the death of her first husband, Henry’s brother, Katherine lived in limbo as her future was haggled over by her parents and Henry’s father. Her mother did insist on that long ago papal dispensation to protect her daughter from exactly the predicament she finds herself in today.
But Katherine is quite vague on exactly what occurred in her marriage to Arthur. Even in our private sessions together, she is reluctant to discuss that marriage, except to say she has always been a true and faithful wife to Henry. She claims to have had no intimate relationship with Arthur whatsoever.
Since I wasn’t there at Ludlow I cannot comment, but I do believe the mind can suppress certain memories, if you are in great fear that everything you know and love can be taken away from you. I do believe Katherine lives with that fear daily and remembers the events of her first marriage the way she needs to in order to survive her present marriage. But I can’t help but observe that the lady doth protest a little too much when asked about her marital relations with her first husband. After all, she has that papal dispensation which would allow for the consummation of her first marriage.
What’s more, Katherine confessed to me that she always had a sense of destiny about her, that she was born to be a great queen.
And one could say that to her subjects she is a great queen – kind, charitable, regal, loving and supportive of her husband, the King. But in Henry’s mind she has failed at her number one duty. She has not given him a son.
Katherine, however, sees it much differently. She has given him an heir, the Princess Mary, who can rule as Katherine’s mother ruled Spain. But I’m afraid Henry will not be moved on this issue. He sees Mary as a marriage pawn – to marry a king, but never to be queen in her own right. He views a Queen Mary as disastrous for England. He hearkens back to the bloody civil war between Matilda, only living heir of Henry I, and her cousin Stephen, Henry’s nephew.
His concern is a legitimate one as many Plantagenet factions are still waiting in the Tudor wings to take the throne back for their side. Would they be able to achieve that with a woman on the throne? Perhaps.
But apart from Henry’s dynastic worries, these two have never really shared together the pain of losing their live-born son, as well as the number of stillborn children and miscarriages. The death of a child not only changes one forever, but it also fundamentally alters a marriage. This unbearable sadness can take hold of your heart and turn you into a complete stranger, not only to yourself, but to your spouse.
Henry often speaks of the happy, young Katherine he married. If he still loves Katherine at all, it’s this uncomplicated Katherine that he loves. But she is no longer there. The deaths of her children have irrevocably changed her. In Henry’s defense, she has turned away from Henry and towards God. That’s not uncommon when tragedy strikes a marriage. Too often, one spouse believes how the other is grieving is wrong. Henry despairs of her new religiosity and Katherine’s baffled by Henry’s adamant desire for a healthy male child. Neither can accept the other’s mode of grief.
But a question for Katherine is … is she able to turn back to Henry and is Henry willing to accept her return? I would say as things stand now the answer is no. But taking off the hair shirt would be a positive start.
After the death of a child, it’s easy for spouses to more easily see the negatives in one another. It’s easy to fall into blame and hurt. And Henry does blame Katherine for all of his marital and dynastic woes … going so far to call their marriage sinful and cursed.
This is quite hurtful to Katherine who believes she has given the best years of her life to her husband, and is now being traded in for a younger fertile model. Unfortunately, this too appears to be true.
In talking with Henry in joint sessions with his wife and privately, I have come to the diagnosis that Henry suffers from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In fact, I would say Henry is a classic case of it. He is excessively preoccupied with his own power, prestige, vanity and adequacy. And of course, he’s King so everyone at Court enables him in this.
And sadly, Katherine plays into Henry’s sense of inadequacy at being unable to produce a male heir. Perhaps it’s why he parades his bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, before all the court. It’s like he’s saying, “See here. I have a healthy son. My loins are virile.” Plus, Henry believes with all of his soul that if he can only marry the younger Anne Boleyn, they will have many sons. But he can’t possibly know this. It’s borderline delusional the way he is creating his happy future without Katherine.
With Henry’s disorder, he is literally incapable of seeing the damage he is doing to himself and to others. Yet as a narcissist, Henry sees his conversations with God as the only correct and moral ones. He is right and everyone else is wrong. And being King is the perfect outlet for his narcissism. After all, he has the power to make his view the right view. This is obvious, in his demands that the whole world, including the Pope, bow to his belief that his divorce has God’s approval. This is a clear manifestation of his narcissism.
I fear this marriage doth NOT prosper. Henry is dug into his position. Again, as a narcissist, his early marriage to Katherine worked because she existed to serve his self-esteem. But now his narcissism refuses to recognize or feel any empathy to the hurt he is causing his wife. Henry simply cannot say to his devoted wife of over 20 years that they can work through their worries and resolve to stay together. He simply repeats over and over, “Get thee to a nunnery.” And Katherine won’t go.
I wish Katherine would go. While it is not ideal for her, I am concerned about how far Henry will go to achieve his desire for a divorce, the further pain he will cause his wife and his daughter, and what may happen to the country as Henry grows more desperate for a son.
And should he get his wish and get this longed-for divorce from Rome, I fear that Henry will escalate in his actions should his second wife fail to give him his son. Today, he is proposing banishment to a nunnery for his ‘barren’ wife, but what will he do to his next wife if she fails him as well?
I have offered to continue counseling with both of them, together and apart. It’s mostly to prepare Katherine for Henry’s coming decision to cast her off. She declines. In her firm belief that she is Henry’s lawfully-wedded wife, she simply won’t accept this as her fate. Henry too refuses, not surprising with his personality disorder.
But I have offered Henry a ‘family’ discount for future appointments. I believe Henry will be back to see me as he enters into his subsequent marriage or marriages with the same issues that destroyed his first. My prayers are with Katherine, Henry and England. God help us all.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and is written with tongue firmly planted in cheek.