Henry VII was the only Tudor who got the dynasty making business right. I suspect it’s because he married a York princess. The Yorks were prolific in the extreme. He had an heir and a spare and a bevy of princesses. When his firstborn and heir, Arthur, died in 1502, Henry VII had a spare to move into the shoes of the dead prince. His second son, better known to history as Henry VIII, was not that lucky. He struggled for an heir and after six wives and countless miscarriages and stillbirths, only ended up with three legitimate children all from different mothers. The Tudor marital strife spilled over into the relationships with their famous father and one another. The relationship Henry VIII had with his children is bound up entirely with the relationships he had with their respective mothers. It is difficult to discuss one without the other.
Mary Tudor was born February 18, 1516 at Greenwich Palace, the only living child of Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon. There had been three sons and two daughters who died at birth or shortly thereafter. Because of this, Princess Mary was adored and cherished by both of her parents in her early years. However, the Princess did not know that behind her father’s loving smiles a storm was brewing. Henry had taken his quest for an heir to the Pope for permission to put Katherine aside. Because of political pressure from Katherine’s nephew, Charles V, the Pope delayed for six long years. Finally, Henry was fed up and took matters into his own hands. In 1533, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church and named himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. The new Archbishop of Canterbury he appointed, Thomas Cranmer, obligingly declared Henry’s marriage to Katherine null and void.
This pulled the rug out from under the feet of the teenaged princess. As in many divorces, Mary found herself caught between her parents and used as a pawn between them. Katherine insisted she was Henry’s true wife as hard as Henry insisted she was not. They both turned to their daughter to agree with them, placing the young girl in a terrible position. Mary defended her mother against any charges of wrongdoing provoking the wrath of her powerful father, causing her adored father of childhood had become a distant tyrant. Katherine was banished from court and Mary was not allowed to see her again. Mary was declared a bastard, a title under which she smarted all her life. It did not help that Henry’s new wife Anne Boleyn took great pains to egg on Henry’s bad behavior towards his daughter and seemed to take a perverse glee in humiliating her. All of this had to have damaged their relationship permanently.
After Anne Boleyn was executed, there was a period of reconciliation. The King’s new wife, Jane Seymour, begged him to bring Mary back to court. She was only allowed to do so once she had signed a document acknowledging her mother and father’s marriage to be incestuous and unlawful. It was a betrayal of her mother for which she never forgave herself. This put her back in her father’s good graces, in which she remained through the help of her father’s last wife Katherine Parr. It was a tenuous peace, in which Mary turned away from her now frightening father and relied instead on her cousin Charles V and her faith.
Elizabeth I was born September 7, 1533 and was a grave disappointment to both her parents. The prince that Henry VIII had moved heaven and earth for was denied him again and all he had was another girl. The birth announcements had a hastily added “s” to indicate a princess and were duly sent out although with much less enthusiasm. However, Henry did pass the Act of Succession, which made her the heir instead of Mary, and forced everyone to take an oath to to this effect. She was set up in a household befitting the tiny Princess of Wales and her half sister Mary was sent to wait on her. But the mercurial turns of Henry’s love life sent her down the wheel of fortune to the bottom. At the time of her mother’s execution in 1536, she was declared a bastard like Mary and stricken from the succession. No one knows when or how she was told of how her mother died, but it is suggestive that she only referred to her mother twice. However, she referenced her illustrious father many times throughout her career.
Her sumptuous household was replaced by one of modest means and she was brought up by a series of governesses, the chief of which was Katherine Champernowne Ashley. The King was noticeably absent from her early life, as he could not bear to see her because she reminded him of Anne Boleyn. However, as she grew and through the influence of three stepmothers, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, Elizabeth made brief and rare appearances at court.
In 1541, Katherine Howard was executed for adultery. The same charges as Elizabeth’s mother. This seemed to have a profound effect on her, perhaps bringing back memories of her mother’s fate. According to her childhood friend Robert Dudley, he had known Elizabeth since she was eight and had always said she would never marry. Somehow death and marriage had become intertwined in her mind.
As an adult, most of Elizabeth’s suitors and favorites called up a ghost image of her father. Especially her first known entanglement, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron of Sudeley. He was tall and red headed and had was known to be bold. Their flirtation and its consequences could have only reinforced the dangers of infatuation and men that her father taught her from an early age.
Edward VI was born on October 12, 1537, and was the answer to his father’s frustrated prayers. It only took the death of two queens, one by neglect and the other by the sword, to get him. Jane Seymour was vaunted to goddess like proportions with his birth, but succumbed to childbed fever twelve days later. This only seemed to frighten Henry into hiding his only son in the hopes of keeping him safe from the perils of infancy and childhood. No expense was spared to make sure ‘the high and mighty Prince Edward’ was comfortable and safe. The walls and floors of his rooms were washed three times a day. His household contained a veritable army of servants to attend his every need practically before he had them to the point of over-protection.
However, as with his other children, Henry did not spend much time with his much loved heir. He saw the baby infrequently and the progress reports were sent to Secretary Thomas Cromwell instead of the doting royal father. As he grew older, he was kept almost as a princess in a tower, secluded away.
When he was old enough to be educated, the king arranged for Edward to have companions of like age and station to attend the palace school with him. Edward was intelligent and serious minded, and wore the mantle of the only Tudor heir heavily on his shoulders. He was taught to never show his feelings and became very solemn and cold. Edward is only reported to have laughed out loud spontaneously once in his life. Who knows what kind of monarch this wary and forbidding child would have grown into?
Three different children from three different mothers all sharing the same distant and glittering father.