by Kathy Henry
This is an analysis of the first marriage of King Henry VIII.
|Although King Henry VIII had reason to worry about the political ramifications of not having a legitimate male heir for his kingdom, he did not have legal or moral justification for annulling his marriage of eighteen years to Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII decided that he wished to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, on the grounds of affinity; he argued that, since Katherine was his brother's widow, the marriage had never really existed and that is why their union was not blessed with sons (Fraser 215). However, according to Katherine, her marriage to Arthur had never been properly consummated, so Henry's argument had no basis. She had given England an heir to the throne; therefore, their union was not cursed since the biblical text of Henry uses for the basis of his argument clearly states that the union between a man and his brother's widow would be cursed with childlessness.
An annulment is different from a divorce; it would have declared that the sacrament of marriage never actually existed, thereby making Princess Mary a bastard child with no right to the English throne, title or royal benefits. Why would any loving father do this to his own child? Because that child was a female and was not considered worthy and he wanted to protect the legitimacy of the his future heirs to another woman. Mary would have no rights or dowry, a dangerous situation for a woman in those times.
Granting an annulment to Henry also would have been an admission that Pope Clement II's predecessor, Pope Julius II, had erred, giving grounds for the accusation that the papacy substituted their own judgments for the Law of God (Fraser 246). The Catholic Church at that time was dealing with Martin Luther, a German priest and theologian who sought to reform the practices of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century (Starkey 200).
If Henry wanted out of his marriage to Katherine, he could told her the truth: that realistically, she would never bear a child again, and he needed a male heir for England. Unlike Spain, England did not have faith in a woman's ability to lead a country. Princess Mary would eventually get married and out of political necessity, that husband would come from another land. The people, the lords would not accept a foreign prince as their king, even if he is wed to Princess Mary and there would be civil war again. Henry could have asked Katherine for a divorce and kept Princess Mary as his heir until he remarried and was blessed with a son from that union (although Katherine would have fought that judgment also).
Instead, he decided to cast away a faithful and good wife of almost twenty years and declare his only legitimate child a bastard to make sure that the future children of his mistress, Anne Boleyn would be protected from the taint of bastardy. In his ruthless quest for an heir, he would bring shame and ridicule to a pious and devoted woman whose only crime was infertility. A woman with more royal blood running through her veins than he did and was immensely proud of her heritage.
There are some who thought and still think that Katherine should have accepted her fate and not fought the annulment and in some ways, they are correct. Given the future grim prospects for Katherine and her daughter, it would have been better for her to go to a nunnery and devote her life to God. Perhaps if she had been born a commoner or a simple lady of the court, the "King's Great Matter" could have worked out differently. A simpler woman would have known her place in such patriarchal times and deferred to his wishes. But Katherine was the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile, a renowned Queen Regent and a princess by birth. She was highly educated and to ask such a woman, a devoted Catholic and scholar, to pretend that her marriage had never existed and her only child a bastard was tantamount to blasphemy. In her viewpoint, she had given Henry three sons and two other daughters and that it was not her fault that God took them away. She was merely a servant of the Lord and could not interpret his motives and she had done her duty by England and by God (Fraser 220).
What kind of mother would she be if she stepped aside and agreed that her marriage to King Henry VIII was invalid? Mary would be declared a bastard before all of Christendom and what would her chances for a decent marriage be under the cloud of a suspicious birth? What man would have a woman for his wife who was once born a princess but now a bastard? No one in Tudor England or elsewhere in Europe and Katherine knew that and could not allow Henry's quest for a male heir destroy her only child's chances for a normal life. Other than become a nun, the only life for a woman in those times was that of wife and mother and the stain of bastardy would ruin any young woman, particularly a princess.
Also, if the annulment was granted to Henry, nothing would be ever be the same for any woman in Tudor England again. Women had very little legal rights during this era in English history and what little they possessed needed to be protected. If a wife had grown fat with constant childbearing and her husband had found a younger, thinner woman, he could set aside their marriage, citing some nonsensical reason or another for getting rid of her. For if the King of England could put a loyal and honest wife aside because he fancies another, no woman would be safe.
Most importantly, Henry was declaring Katherine a liar before all of Christendom; she claimed she came to the marriage bed with Henry still a virgin and that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated. Obviously, she must have been telling the truth or he would have set aside the marriage immediately after having sex with her, considering Henry's egotism and great pride in his manly abilities. Only when she had grown overweight with childbearing and too old to bear anymore children did Henry decide that she had lied and wanted out of the marriage. Henry was declaring that Katherine, a staunch Catholic and deeply religious woman was a liar and a whore who bore a child out of wedlock. What man in patriarchal Catholic Tudor England would stay with a woman like that? Not King Henry VIII, "The Defender of the Faith"who was known to attend as many as six masses a day (Weir 75) and was considered a student of theology by his contemporaries (Weir 76).
In the end, although the Catholic Church denied King Henry VIII's annulment request, Henry defied the Church's authority by forming his own church, the Church of England and had his marriage to Katherine annulled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Katherine was now a single woman and her child a bastard. But she and the Catholic Church was ethically and morally right for fighting Henry's "Great Matter." A man should not be allowed to set his marriage aside and any children born in the union declared bastards because he grown tired of his wife; it would be a dangerous legal and moral precedent.
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