I have always been ridiculously interested in royalty, old and new. The tragedy of the beautiful, young Romanov grand duchesses, the prospect of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden inheriting the throne instead of her younger brother, the will-she-or-won’t-she Chrysanthemum throne inheritance drama of Japan’s Princess Aiko, how American classic film actresses Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Gloria Swanson, and Mae Murray married into titles, are all things I find fascinating. I’m inclined towards weird trivia that no one really needs to know like the names of Louis XIV’s mistresses and what each of their personalities were and that actor Christopher Guest of This is Spinal Tap! and Best in Show fame is actually Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest. I guess what draws me to these stories is just how different they are from mine; the extreme luxury, the palaces, the restriction and rules of decorum…and the drama that goes along with all of it.
When it comes to the medieval era, the interpersonal dynamics, power plays, roles of men and women (especially women), and the lengths they had to go to keep their heads (literally) in a world pre-automobile/TV/phone is what I find most fascinating. When I was young, my mom, knowing my interest in such subjects, taught me a rhyme that she learned in school:
Henry the Eighth to six wives wedded
Perhaps because it’s catchy, it stuck in my head and stayed there. About 20 years later, this bit of history has personal meaning because now it’s not just a rhyme; it’s a rhyme about my cousins. Through my (paternal) Luce/Luse line, I am related not only to King Henry VIII, but all 6 of his wives.
His amorous majesty King Henry VIII is my 6th cousin 18x removed. His wives are related to me as follows (in order of closest relation):
Gentle, obedient, and very vanilla Jane Seymour (died) is my closest relation of the bunch as a 1st cousin 17x removed. Out of all of the wives, I’m least inclined towards prim and docile Jane. She seemed to have a faint spark compared to the rest, however if complications from childbirth hadn’t gotten in the way, this may have served her well. Maybe she was more wily than I give her credit for…
Tragic mama of Elizabeth I and Francophile Anne Boleyn (beheaded) is my 3rd cousin 15x removed. Intelligent, canny, and full of self-worth, I love that Anne demanded Henry “put a ring on it” about 500 years pre-Beyonce, when it came to having relations before marriage. She was described as interesting looking rather than beautiful, with olive skin, dark hair and eyes; not unattractive, but it was her personality that captivated. She was described as an opinionated and lively conversationalist who could be sweet and charming, but was also known to have a temper.
Equally tragic “Girl’s just wanna have fun” poster child Catherine Howard (beheaded) is my 5th cousin 17x removed. Granted, we grew up centuries apart, but I so relate to teenage Catherine’s desire to party, flirt with boys, and just have fun (she was only about 16 years old when she married 49 year old Henry). It’s tragically unfair that a dude came along and ruined her good time…not to mention beheaded her- what a jerk!
Dissed and dismissed Catherine of Aragon (divorced in the poem- actually annulled) is tied with Henry as my 6th cousin 18x removed. I feel for Catherine because she had her whole life planned out with a child, a husband, a kingdom…and then Henry took a sledgehammer to her future. I admire her integrity and pride, not to mention the massive guilt trip she rightfully laid on her husband, referring to herself as Henry’s only legal wife until her death.
Street-smart every-girl Katherine Parr (survived) is my 8th cousin 17x removed. She sweet talked her volatile husband out of possibly offing her to clear the way for a potential 7th wife (her bff, the Duchess of Suffolk), played peacemaker between her husband and step-children and helped steer Henry towards a succession act that included his daughters Mary and Elizabeth (after Henry’s annulments from their mothers, they were seen as illegitimate and ineligible for succession), and became an author sometime along the way. I can’t tell if Katherine was warm and maternal or just crafty in keeping good relations with all of her step-children (she was married 4 times and had a few). Either way, I admire her for it and it’s a testament to both her street smarts and her charm that she was able to survive King Henry VIII.
Fortunate reject Anne of Cleves (divorced– also actually annulled) is my 9th cousin 16x removed. Let’s be honest, though Henry virtually put the kibosh on any hope Anne had of having a marriage and family, at least she escaped with her head! Plus, though the lore centers around Henry’s displeasure with her as the reason for their marriage being annulled, Anne herself probably breathed a big sigh of relief. She was a 25 year old and he was a gout ridden, rotund, trigger happy 49 year old who had already sought an annulment from one wife and beheaded another.
Which of King Henry’s wives do you find most interesting? Have they also popped up in your family tree research? I’m still discovering royal connections here and there, but this one was especially fun to dive into. It’s certainly making history more interesting!