The Anglican Story, Part III:
Henry, the Married Man
One of Henry’s first acts when he ascended the throne was to marry Catherine of Aragon. Catherine was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and she had been shipped of to England to marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry’s older brother. Unfortunately, Arthur, ever a sickly boy, died of an inflammation of the lungs six months into the marriage, and Catherine remained in England, a widow largely ignored, except by young Harry, who loved her enough to marry her under a special dispensation from the Pope (Henry’s advisors and the Spanish ambassador felt it would be prudent to get the dispendation, even though Catherine swore that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated and that she was, in her words,: “a widow who had never been a wife”).Henry was 18 and Catherine was 24.
Henry came to sincerely believe that God was punishing him for marrying his brother’s widow, and that no son would be borne by Catherine.
For the first ten years the marriage was reasonably happy, with one major drawback. Of her nine or eleven (no one seems to know for sure how many pregnancies Catherine had) she had been able to produce only one child who survived infancy, a daughter named Mary, who was born in 1516. As early as 1524, Henry came to believe, and it was a sincere belief, that God was punishing him for marrying his brother’s widow, and that no son would be borne by Catherine, who was now 39 and in menopause. Henry knew that he could father sons. Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond (1519-1536), the son of Henry’s mistress Bessie Blount, was living proof of that. Henry reasoned, therefore, that the fault must lie with Catherine, and he began to cast about for ways and means to annul his marriage so that he might remarry and father a son to secure the succession.
Enter the catalyst. In 1522, Anne Boleyn returned to England from France and became one of Queen Catherine’s ladies in waiting. At that time, Henry was involved in a romantic liaison with Anne’s sister Mary, but by 1527 he had shifted his attentions to Anne, and she played her trump card. She let Henry know that she would not give herself to any man who was not her husband. Henry redoubled his efforts to secure a divorce from Catherine.