The Turmoil Of Divorce For A Battered Wife
Divorced, beheaded, survived… the wives of Henry VIII
Henry VIII with Prince Edward and Jane Seymour
Henry VIII with Prince Edward and Jane Seymour
The larger-than-life character of King Henry VIII (1509-47) dazzles across the centuries.
He founded a national church, transformed government, built a strong Navy and encouraged a flourishing of the arts.
He is also remembered for the extraordinary marital merry-go-round that saw him wed six wives in his quest for a male heir (and ideally a spare) to secure the Tudor dynasty on England’s throne.
But what of those six wives, almost hidden in Henry’s monstrous shadow and recalled less by name than by their fates summed up in the well-known rhyme: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived? Far from the puppets implied, each is a fascinating flesh-and-blood figure and each dealt differently with Henry and the challenges they faced. The consequences determined the course of royal history.
The medieval ruins of Ludlow Castle offer an evocative starting place for the wives’ story. For it’s here that the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon was living with her husband Prince Arthur, elder son and heir of King Henry VII, when Arthur was suddenly taken ill and died in 1502.
Catherine, the pretty, gracious daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and his warrior-queen Isabella, had been married to cement a political alliance between Spain and England against France.Now, aged just 16, she was a widow in a foreign land. But Catherine firmly believed in her royal destiny and after seven difficult years, a papal dispensation and a deathbed wish by Henry VII, her patience paid off.
She married Arthur’s brother, King Henry VIII in June 1509.
The match reaffirmed the political alliance, but 18-year-old Henry, 6ft 2in tall and “the handsomest sovereign”, was also in love with his diminutive, auburn-haired 23-year-old bride.
All bode well and she played the perfect wife and queen, whether devotedly embroidering her husband’s shirts or (ever her mother’s daughter) vigorously supporting Henry in his military pursuits.
In 1513 when the king went to fight in France, he made Catherine regent in his absence, a role that she performed with aplomb.
But there was one crucial role in which she failed: to provide Henry with a son and heir. The prince born in 1511 died within a few months and the one surviving child from six or seven pregnancies was a daughter, Mary, which simply would not do. As the queen grew older, she lost her looks and turned increasingly to her Catholic faith and study; Henry turned to mistresses.
Around 1526, the king’s roving eye alighted on one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. The “fresh young damsel” refused to become his mistress, provoking a frenzy of frustrated royal passion. Anne issued a breathtakingly bold ultimatum: she could only surrender to Henry’s advances if he divorced his wife.
The king, believing Anne would provide his male heir, entreated the Pope to declare his marriage to his brother’s wife invalid, but the Pope refused, sparking Henry’s break with Catholic Rome.
Nor would Catherine go quietly, declaring her first marriage had never been consummated and she was the sovereign’s ‘true wife’.In May 1533, after nearly 24 years of marriage, Catherine was divorced anyway and reduced to the title Princess Dowager.
Pious and noble to the end, she died in January 1536 at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire (now owned by Kimbolton School and open to visitors on certain days). In a last letter to Henry, she wrote, “For my part I pardon you everything, and I wish devoutly to pray God that He will pardon you also.” You’ll find her tomb in Peterborough Cathedral, but her ghost lingers at Kimbolton Castle.
Anne Boleyn’s story takes us first to her childhood home, Hever Castle in Kent.
Here you can view her portrait and also the Book of Hours (prayer book) she is said to have carried to the scaffold when her royal luck ran out.
A dark-eyed brunette, Anne was no conventional beauty, but she was feisty, witty and seductive, with a chic French education acquired while her father worked as a diplomat in Paris.
The Boleyns were an ambitious family and Anne’s sister Mary had already been the king’s mistress. But Anne was the one who shrewdly won the royal hand in marriage, in January 1533 – some four months before Henry’s actual divorce from Catherine. Anne, 32 years old, was already flaunting her pregnancy, although the eagerly anticipated son would turn out to be another girl, Elizabeth.
The new queen was widely reviled as an interloper, a social climber and even a witch (she had a sixth finger on her left hand) who had ensnared the king. People also blamed her for the religious turmoil that Henry’s break with Rome unleashed.
Indeed Anne was greatly attracted to the controversial religious ideas behind the Protestant Reformation; coincidentally they served her interests.
It was she who had given Henry The Obedience of a Christian Man by William Tyndale that stated the King, not the Pope, should have authority over the Church.
Hever CastleBut Anne was playing a dangerous game. Without allies, she fully depended on Henry’s favour, and as pregnancies came and went and no male heir was produced, the king’s favour began to turn elsewhere. The end came three years into her marriage: on 19 May 1536 Anne was beheaded on London’s Tower Green.
Despite the trumped-up charges of adultery and treason, she showed remarkable composure on the scaffold, calling upon Jesus Christ to “save my sovereign and master the King, the most godly, noble and gentle prince that is.” Her headless spirit is said still to appear near Queen’s House and lead a ghostly procession of lords and ladies down the aisle of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula where she is buried.
Just over a week after Anne’s execution, Henry married Jane Seymour, a former lady-in-waiting to his first two wives. This fair, pale-skinned, blue-eyed woman of respectable birth and standing was demure and virtuous. She was also a committed Catholic and dared to plead with her new husband to abandon the Dissolution of the Monasteries, perhaps hoping he would return to the ‘true faith’.
Her temerity earned her a stern rebuke, but any lingering resentment was swept aside when she gave birth to Prince Edward on 12 October 1537, in the royal apartments at Hampton Court Palace. It’s easy to imagine the king’s pride and relief as the infant was baptised in the sumptuous Chapel Royal.
But even in triumph came tragedy. Jane contracted puerperal fever and died shortly after the birth. Of all Henry’s spouses, it is his “most dear and entirely beloved wife” who is buried beside him in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
Meantime court advisors – and a flattering portrait by Hans Holbein – persuaded the distraught king to take another bride, who would bring with her a German alliance.
Anne of Cleves was shipped over, taking the trouble first to study English etiquette and learn card games that Henry played, the better to please him.
Unfortunately, when Henry met her in the half-timbered Old Hall behind Rochester Castle he took one look at her full figure and unfashionable dark complexion and bluntly declared: “I her not.”The wedding went ahead regardless on 6 January 1540 but Henry, overcome by impotence, never consummated the union. Anne, apparently, didn’t realise anything was amiss.
Nevertheless she had the good sense to settle for divorce after six months, a handsome pay-off that included Hever Castle and the title of ‘the King’s good sister’.
She never remarried and lived until 1557, a rather sad stranger in a foreign land in her twilight years.
Henry, on the rebound, became infatuated with Catherine Howard, the flighty teenage daughter of the powerful Howard family. Her relations, spotting a superb opportunity for advancement, encouraged the match and Catherine, whatever her true feelings about marriage to a fat, 49-year-old king with leg ulcers, acquiesced, becoming his fifth wife in July 1540.
Chenies Manor House and garden
The marriage was over before it began. Licentious by nature, Catherine recklessly took up with a former lover, Thomas Culpeper, a trusted gentleman of the king’s Privy Chamber.
Visit Chenies Manor House in Buckinghamshire and listen for the ghostly footsteps crossing the gallery, said to be Henry heading for his wife’s room during a sojourn there that also included Culpeper in the royal entourage.
Then return to the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry was informed of Catherine’s infidelity, and the Haunted Gallery, where the queen’s ghost is said to shriek, re-enacting her desperate run to the Chapel door to plead with the king for mercy. She was executed on Tower Green on 13 February 1542.
By now, Henry was really ailing, but he still had an eye for the twice-widowed Katherine Parr, who came to court in 1543. Born at Kendal Castle 31 years earlier, Katherine was “gracious, learned and pious” with “singular beauty, favour and a comely personage.
” She was also in love with Sir Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Queen Jane. So when the king proposed, she hesitated. Eventually – as her handwritten letter on display at Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds records – she renounced her personal desire and followed what she believed to be God’s will.
She married Henry in July 1543 at Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court PalaceKatherine certainly lived up to her motto, “To be useful in all I do.” She acted as Queen Regent while Henry embarked on a last, brief military hurrah in France in 1544 and she sensitively drew together all three of his children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward, taking a close interest in their education.
More controversially, she began developing radical Protestant opinions that verged on the heretical. Only her quick wits when she overstepped the mark saved her from arrest: she argued that she sought to divert the king from his painful thrombosis through lively theological discussion!
When Henry died on 28 January 1547, Katherine hastily rekindled her romance with Seymour, married and retired pregnant to the Seymour home at Sudeley Castle. But she died following the birth of her daughter, in September 1548. Katherine received the first-ever Protestant royal funeral and her tomb is in St Mary’s Church in the castle’s beautiful gardens.
Six wives, six very different characters who influenced the king and history in a tale full of ‘what ifs’ and ironies. Not least is the irony that, despite Henry’s hankering for male heirs, his daughter by Anne Boleyn would prove to be one of England’s greatest monarchs: Elizabeth I.
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Causes of Wife Battering and Why Does a Battered Wife Stay?
What causes wife battering? Why would someone beat their wife?
Battered wives are often from homes where they are taught to be compliant and not voice their concerns and this leads them into a similar adult relationship. Men who have been in homes where wife battering occurred as children are more ly to grow up into wife batterers themselves.
Wife battering is a huge problem in the United States with millions of cases of battering occurring yearly, although one doesn't have to be married to be a victim of battering.
Same-sex couples can also experience battering. A battered wife can be of any race, socioeconomic status or educational background – anyone can be a victim of wife beating.
(Wondering if you're a victim of wife battering. Take the Battered Woman Test.)
Causes of Wife Battering
As wife battering is an organic behavior, there is no direct cause. No wife or any situation can cause a person to beat another. It's important to understand this, as victims often blame themselves for being battered when it is never their fault – no matter what the batterer says.
Within a relationship, though, there is typically a pattern to wife battering (read Cycle of Violence and Abuse). The phases are typically:1
- A tension building phase
- A wife battering episode
- A “honeymoon” phase where there is a respite
During the tension building phase, the wife often “walks on eggshells” around her batterer and is aware of the fact that the tension is building. Little things may make the batterer mad such as a meal he doesn't or his wife being late. These minor infractions produce unreasonable tension in the relationship.
This tension eventually explodes in an acute wife battering episode. The battering may be a more minor push or slap or may be a major beating leading to broken bones or worse. The batterer may prevent the victim from receiving healthcare for their injuries and threaten the victim or others if the victim threatens to tell anyone about the abuse.
Once the acute battering is over, the batterer often tries to charm his way what has happened; promising to never to do it again and attempting to make amends by doing things buying flowers and being extra attentive. Typically though, the wife batterer has no intention of stopping and is simply trying to manipulate the victim into not telling others, believing “it's not that bad,” and that it's “all in her head.”
Why Does a Battered Wife Stay?
A battered wife may stay in a relationship for a variety of reasons. Battered wives often:
- Feel the abuse isn't “real, ” or “isn't that bad”
- Think they can change the abuser (Help for Batterers)
- Believe it will never happen again
- Believe that help won't work or that no one will believe them or that they deserve the abuse
- Don't want to break up a family
- Stay with a batterer because she feels sorry for him as he often comes from a history containing abuse
- Are economically and psychologically dependent on the batterer
- Are afraid to leave
- Are afraid for the welfare of others ( their children)
But, of course, any level of wife battering is not okay and any wife who has suffered battering should get help for it immediately.
Persuading a Battered Wife to Leave
Often convincing a battered wife to leave their batterer is about convincing them that their false thoughts about the abuse are wrong. For example,
- “Just because he only hit you once, that doesn't make it okay. Once is one too many times.”
- “You cannot change someone else; only they can choose to change themselves.”
In addition, a battered wife often also needs someplace to go, such as a friend's house or a battered women's shelter. Taking care of the needs and safety of the wife as well as any children, and sometimes pets (which may also be abused), involved in the situation can help a woman decide to leave her batterer.
It's important to be non-blaming and non-judgmental in any scenario of wife battering, as the victims often already feel guilty and more guilt may make them believe that they deserve the abuse. This may make them even more reluctant to leave their wife batterer.
next: Help for Battered Women: Where to Find It
~ all articles on domestic violence
~ all articles on abuse
Tracy, N. (2012, July 27). Causes of Wife Battering and Why Does a Battered Wife Stay?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/domestic-violence/causes-of-wife-battering-and-why-does-a-battered-wife-stay