The Milestone, The Montague on the Gardens, the Chesterfield Mayfair all include rooms either named after royalty, or which take their design cues from a royal theme. Many of the rooms at “41” are regal in the sense that they overlook the mews and gardens of Buckingham Palace. The Egerton House Hotel has no obvious palace connection but I know at least one member of the royal family has discretely taken afternoon tea in the Drawing Room.*
The Rubens at the Palace has eight rooms which specifically commemorate particular monarchs, including Henry VIII, the most famous and notorious in English history. And when it comes to the theme of royal weddings his story surely tops them all – six brides, two of whom he had executed, and a tale full of fascinating twists and turns.
Henry’s first bride was Catherine of Aragon. Catherine married Henry’s elder brother, Arthur, when Henry was ten. Arthur died twenty weeks later, aged fifteen. Henry’s Dad, Henry VII, wanted to maintain his alliance with Catherine’s family, the royal family of Spain, and suggested Henry marry his brother’s widow. This could only occur if the Pope gave special dispensation because in the book of Leviticus it says “If a brother is to marry the wife of a brother they will remain childless.” Catherine swore that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, making it technically invalid. However, just to be sure the correct papal dispensation was given.
Catherine bore Henry six children. A son and a daughter were stillborn. Two sons and a daughter died shortly after childbirth. The only surviving child was a girl, leaving no male heir (but this girl went on to become Mary I). Henry eventually decided that his marriage was “blighted in the eyes of God” and had fallen for one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Anne’s refusal to become his mistress only inflamed his passion and he determined to wed her (her sister Mary took on the role of mistress, as dramatised in “The other Boleyn girl”. Also read the Booker prize winner, and best seller, “Wolf Hall”)
Henry eventually ignored the Pope’s refusal to issue an annulment and married Anne anyway. This resulted in England’s bloody and cataclysmic break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries. Anne swiftly became pregnant, but much to everyone’s disappointment it was a girl (who went on to become Elizabeth I). Anne conceived again, but news that Henry was in an almost fatal jousting accident caused her to miscarry – and it was a boy (ironically this happened on the day Henry’s first wife was buried). Henry now took Jane Seymour as his new mistress and swiftly had five men, including Anne’s own brother, arrested on charges of having sexual relationships with the queen. All were executed, followed by Anne herself. She knelt upright, in the French style of executions, and her head was severed with a single stroke.
The day after Anne’s execution Henry was engaged to Jane, and they married ten days later. Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, the future Edward VI. The birth was difficult and the queen died shortly afterwards.
Next he married Anne of Cleves, after seeing her portrait. On Anne’s arrival in England, Henry is said to have found her utterly unattractive, privately calling her a “Flanders Mare”. Soon after the wedding Henry requested an annulment and Anne was smart enough to agree, saying the union had never been consummated.
Henry was now grossly obese (54 inch waist, and requiring mechanical devices to move him around) and sickly (he was covered with painful, pus-filled boils and possibly suffered from gout. His obesity and other medical problems can be traced from a jousting accident in 1536. The accident actually re-opened a previous leg wound he had sustained years earlier. This festered for the remainder of his life. Despite his infirmity he married the young Catherine Howard (age uncertain, but between seventeen and twenty two), Anne Boleyn’s first cousin. Queen Catherine soon had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper. Catherine and he were both executed.
Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in 1543. Despite clashing with him over religion she outlived him. On his death his only legitimate son (he had several illegitimate ones) succeeded. Aged just nine years old a regent ruled on his behalf and the young Edward VI never took the reins of power. He nominated his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his heir and excluded his half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. However, this was disputed following Edward’s death – Jane was only queen for nine days before Mary was proclaimed Queen.
So despite his six marriages, Henry VIII was succeeded by the country’s first queen, and a catholic one at that!
Two momentous royal engagements are imminent allowing you to see history in the making. The eagerly anticipated Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, taking place on 29th April, has set London buzzing with excitement and is due to be the event of the year. 2012 will see the celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee celebrating 60 years of the Queen’s reign, the only other British Monarch to achieve this milestone was Queen Victoria in 1897.