What would it have been like to be Henry VIII s ex-wife?
| I have known riches, worn furs, danced at grand balls, lived in palaces and been introduced to the old families of Europe. I am the daughter of the king and queen of Spain and the aunt of Emperor Charles V. I am also the true wife of the king of England, for my name is Katherine. Only he thinks me not...we have been married for more than twenty years but I am no longer to be called his wife and Queen. I am to be known as Lady Katherine and I have no choice but to listen as others call his whore 'Queen'.....Queen Anne.
Looking into my frugal fire, in my once, oh so grand home, I sometimes remember how things were. The months grieving for Arthur were over and the sun shone again for both of us. We were in love and he did everything for me, even gaining a dispensation from the Pope, allowing us to marry. He courted me like a true prince should, nothing was too much. Sonnets were written for me, tokens of were sent proclaiming his sincerity and he amused me with his jests and jousts. We were so self assured and in love and nothing would ever change.
Only it did. We are both sadder as well as older. My daughter has been proclaimed a bastard. She will never have what I have known. She, just like I, lies on rough sheets now, lighting just one meagre candle, not enough to embroider or read by. We are prisoners, a Queen at Richmond and a Princess at Hatfield, not allowed to even communicate with each other. Oh, how I envy the people their freedom. I would wish for no palaces if it meant I could see my daughter again and walk by the river.
Oh, he may have his court and his jewels, he may have his castles and palaces, his horses and whores. But he has no son and no heir. That is my fault. He is punishing me and he is punishing Mary for her sex, the girl he once called his beloved daughter.
It is well known that it is a woman's duty to produce a son. I failed. For this one act undone, his life is poorer in spirit and mine in substance. So there will be no more grand balls and no more soft sheets. We wait, although for what we don't know. I cannot even afford a full staff. I have just two ladies now...some left as they knew I couldn't pay them or they did not wish to upset their 'New' Queen. Others I let go, for more pocket is pitiful and I cannot ask for loyalty to go unpaid. He, of course, like most men, can demand what he wants from his women. Women are meant to be duty bound and subservient and when they are not, they are punished, just as I am punished. A wife, every wife, must lay with her husband when he demands, must provide a meal at the end of the day and must bring his children up properly. They can certainly be beaten if they fail. I, on the other hand, do not fear the belt but humiliation comes in another form.
The people do not like the new Queen. For all her pretence and the jewels she has taken from me, they do not respect her. Some even call her a witch, on account of the spell she has cast on my true husband, as well as the sixth finger she is said to have on her left hand. This is a sign from the devil and God will spurn her for taking what is truly mine.
She has not the people's love as I have. I still keep that. Not even the King, his whore or that cruel Cardinal Wolsey can take that from me.
It is said the whore is to have a child. Maybe, if it is a boy, this will enrich his spirit. So we wait. God forgive me, I rejoice when I hear it is a daughter. So his spirit falls further and her life may end like mine in poverty. I imagine he is slowly drowning in a nightmare of his own making. If the whore cannot give him a son, he will sink further until his spirit is truly dead. He will blame her of course, as he blamed me and as he blamed God.
It is winter and the grey skies show no promise of what is to come. Despite everything, I manage to keep well enough to rise and pray for my daughter. My losses are hard but what use are servants and jewels when my riches lie in God's words. What use are palaces when I will one day see Heaven? Earthly rewards are a poor substitute.
Nonetheless, I still love him as I promised to do the day we were wed. Maybe if he ceased this foolishness I could still give him the one thing he desires. But no, truthfully I am no longer able.
Who then is the happier? And I know it is I, for it is summer again and I am Katherine, the true Queen of England.