1536: Henry VIII’s Cheese Slides Off His Cracker
1536 was a year chock-full of pivotal events that irrevocably altered Henry VIII’s life and England’s history. Posterity remembers Henry as a deranged tyrant, but that’s only part of the story. It was during that fateful year of injuries, loss, betrayals, and threats to his authority that the Henry remembered by history came to be.
At the dawn of his reign, the English people were ecstatic to boast such a handsome, athletic, and learned monarch. Thomas More, the scholar, author, and close companion to the new King, positively gushed:
“This day is the end of our slavery, the fount of our liberty; the end of sadness and the beginning of joy.” - April 21, 1509
Of course, Tom’s joy may have been tempered a bit had he known his eventual fate at Henry’s command.
More’s beheading on July 6, 1535 (he refused to acknowledge the King as the head of the English Church) likely started a snowball effect that colored the rest of Henry’s life. Ordering More’s execution certainly caused him mental anguish, unlike many others he sent to the block.
Sir (later Saint) Thomas More had been Henry’s confidante, mentor, and role model. He was also among the select few allowed to address His Majesty as “Harry.” If More wasn’t safe, no one was safe.
Henry went into 1536 already thrown off-balance and feeling betrayed. And that was only the beginning. Madness, rage, and bloodshed dominated his existence until his death on January 28, 1547, at age 55.
So let’s dive into the major upheavals (many self-induced, *cough, cough* just sayin’) that rocked Henry VIII’s world in 1536.
Death of Wife #1 Catherine of Aragon
7 January 1536
Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, was married to him longer than his other five spouses put together. She died on January 7, 1536, at Kimbolton Castle, most likely of cancer.
Catherine died in exile, separated from her beloved daughter Mary by the husband who was determined to break her. No matter how subservient she appeared on the surface, Catherine was an immovable force on the issue of their marriage.
And it drove Henry batshit.
She lived long enough to die a natural death (unlike two of Henry’s other wives) only because she was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The upstart Henry Tudor wouldn’t dare cross this bunch.
Over the years, Henry tried to sweet-talk, bribe, and threaten Catherine to step aside so he could remarry and provide a male heir for England. The Queen was an obedient wife but also an incredibly devout Catholic — even for the times — so God’s law came first.
Catherine insisted their marriage was valid no matter how hard Henry banged the “you were married to my brother” drum. She swore in the confessional that her marriage to Arthur wasn’t consummated, and, in any case, the Pope had issued a dispensation allowing the union with Henry. In the eyes of the Catholic Church (the only eyes that mattered), their marriage was sound.
That was Catherine’s story, and she was sticking to it.
When their daughter Mary begged to see her mother one last time before she died, Henry cruelly refused her request, saying the two could use the opportunity to plot against him and his new wife, Anne Boleyn.
Catherine died at two o’clock in the afternoon, still proclaiming her love for Henry. Anne Boleyn rejoiced as she was finally the only Queen in England. Little did she know her own death was right around the corner in May, courtesy of her husband and a French swordsman doing his bidding.
Henry Fall Down Go Boom
24 January 1536
During a jousting tournament at Greenwich Palace, the 44-year-old King was thrown from his horse, which knocked him unconscious for about two hours. Henry suffered a severe concussion and a varicose ulcer burst on his left leg, an injury he incurred from another serious jousting injury in 1527.
It was a hold-your-breath touch-and-go situation, and Henry not surviving the accident was a definite possibility.
But survive Henry did, although he was never physically or mentally the same again. Much of the change in his temperament was due to that leg ulcer. The pain was no doubt excruciating, and his notorious mood swings fluctuated with his comfort level. The injury also curtailed his athleticism, and he began to pack on the pounds as a result. For a man as vain as Henry, that had to be a crushing blow to his ego.
Henry’s brush with death renewed his urgency to father a son. How close he came to dying without an heir horrified him. But once again, the King’s desires were thwarted.
Anne Boleyn Miscarries a Son
29 January 1536
Queen Anne miscarried a son on the day of Queen Catherine’s funeral. The implications of this in a superstitious age were lost on no one.
The Spanish Ambassador Chapuys, who was Team Catherine all the way and despised “The Concubine,” as he called Anne, reported the events of the day:
“The said concubine wished to lay the blame on the Duke of Norfolk, whom she hates, saying he frightened her by bringing the news of the fall the King had six days before. But it is well known that is not the cause, for it was told her in a way that she should not be alarmed or attach much importance to it.
Some think it was owing to her own incapacity to bear children, others to a fear that the King would treat her like the late Queen, especially considering the treatment shown to a lady of the Court, named Mistress Semel [Seymour] to whom, as many say, he has lately made great presents.”
Wife Number Three was waiting in the wings, so her inability to give Henry a son sealed Anne’s fate.
Royal Looting of Religious Houses
Parliament ordered the dissolution of the monasteries, legally allowing the King to loot the Catholic Church’s property to enrich his dwindling coffers. And that’s exactly what Henry did, enraging the Catholics in his realm. And that anger would only grow over the next few months.
Mark Smeaton Arrested, Tortured, Coincidentally Admits to Carnal Knowledge of Queen Anne
30 April 1536
Court musician and commoner Mark Smeaton was arrested and, after hours of the most horrific torture imaginable, he admitted to dallying with the queen.
It was, of course, complete horseshit, as all accusations of adultery involving Anne were. The truth was she’d become more trouble than she was worth personally and politically, and if a bunch of innocent men had to go down with her, so be it.
Anne Boleyn Arrested …
2 May 1536
Anne Boleyn was arrested along with her brother George Viscount Rochford. They were charged with conspiracy to murder the King and incest, which was pretty gross.
Scads more accusations of adultery followed. Francis Weston and William Brereton were also arrested and convicted on May 12th. (Henry Norris was arrested earlier with poor Mark Smeaton.)
Clearly Henry’s toadies at Court believed if they cast a wide enough net they were bound to catch something. They didn’t, but no matter. The outcome was a given from the get-go anyway.
… Aaand Anne Boleyn Executed
May 19, 1536
Anne and George Boleyn were tried during a farcical trial in the Tower of London on May 15, and, not surprisingly, both siblings were found guilty. On May 17th her marriage to Henry was annulled, and on the 19th she was executed on Tower Green.
Anne knew that English headsmen didn’t always get the job done on the first axe swing, so her thoughtful husband imported a swordsman from France.
What a guy, huh?
Unfortunately, the swordsman arrived a day late, meaning Anne had to suffer through not one but two delays of her execution. Her anguish was more than understandable, but she quickly regained her composure and died every inch a Queen.
Henry Marries Jane Seymour Before Anne Boleyn’s Even Cold
30 May 1536
Wasting no time, King Henry was betrothed to Jane Seymour the very next day. They were married on May 30th at Whitehall, and Henry had Jane proclaimed Queen of England on June 4th.
Jane had followed Anne Boleyn’s successful strategy to win the King’s affections (which was basically refusing to bang him) but was careful to avoid Anne’s headstrong and opinionated tendencies. Jane wisely presented herself as Anne’s polar opposite in every way.
Jane ended up being Henry’s favorite wife and he chose to be buried with her. Still, one has to wonder if she hadn’t produced a son on October 12, 1537, the future King Edward VI, and died of childbirth complications less than two weeks later if that still would’ve been the case.
Parliament Excludes Princess Elizabeth From the Line of Succession
8 June 1536
Parliament excluded Anne’s daughter Elizabeth from the succession, along with her half-sister Mary, so any children of Henry and Jane had a clear path to the throne.
This was no surprise, but it put young Elizabeth in a precarious position until she ascended the throne after (Bloody) Mary. Elizabeth I became England’s most legendary monarch, arguably surpassing her father.
And Anne Boleyn had the last laugh, which is a million sorts of awesome.
Princess Mary Finally Accepts Royal Supremacy
22 June 1536
Princess Mary, also motherless and isolated, finally relented and confirmed her acceptance of the King as Head of the Church in England.
She also acknowledged that her parents’ marriage was invalid and that she was illegitimate. Henry welcomed her back to Court, but Mary never forgave herself for acting against her conscience, unlike her steadfast-to-the-end mother.
The Ten Articles of Religion
July and August 1536
Henry’s latest bit of Catholic heresy went over like a lead balloon with the common folk, especially in northern England. The King’s circle at Court and many citizens of London at least paid lip service to Henry’s reforms. The rest of his subjects in other parts of the country were quite a different matter.
The King showed them who was boss by issuing the Ten Articles of Religion followed by a series of injunctions to enforce the new doctrine.
Henry ordered Bibles placed in every church and frowned upon “superstitious” statues and images, the worship of saints, and certain Holy Days. If Bingo had been a thing back then, he would’ve canceled that too.
This was the final straw for many of Henry’s Catholic subjects.
1 October 1536
A Catholic uprising in defiance of the King’s new religious reforms, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, erupted in Lincolnshire and then spread to Yorkshire. Under the leadership of lawyer Robert Aske, the rebels assembled an army numbering around forty thousand men. They planned to march on London and overturn the government to restore the Catholic Church’s supremacy in England.
This was an almost unimaginable scenario to the King. His own subjects rising up against him shook Henry to the core. It was a direct assault on his authority, and his revenge was quick and cruel.
Truce Agreed with Rebels (Sike)
26 October 1536
A supposed “truce” was reached between the northern rebels and His Majesty. Unfortunately, the rebels entered into the agreement without any promises of safety granted. They believed an anointed King would be a man of his word, and allow them to simply worship as they pleased.
This proved to be a fatal error for both their cause and their leaders. Hundreds of men, including Robert Aske, were tortured and executed.
And centuries of religious strife between Catholics and Protestants ensued.
Things didn’t look up for Henry with the arrival of 1537. Queen Jane gave him a son but lost her life as a direct result. Henry’s grief was genuine and palpable, but that didn’t stop him from remarrying three more times.
Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547, at Whitehall Palace in London. He was 55 years old.