The Birth of Elizabeth
1533, three hours after noon, on the seventh of September, in a bed once part of a French Prince’s ransom, a healthy baby girl was born to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII – to the grief of both her parents. Poor Elizabeth! If any child’s birth disappointed her parents it was her birth. Conceived at the tail end of her father’s passion for her mother, once a passion all consuming but now flickering out, she was the child her father had turned his kingdom upside down to get. King Harry, once the Pope’s golden boy for his book defending the Papacy against the attacks of Martin Luther, was now even under threat of excommunication for putting aside his ‘sister-in-law’ Katherine of Aragon for Anne Boleyn and the children she could give him. But not a girl child; never a girl child.
I admit to not liking Henry VIII. A selfish man with great ego, the King’s character was probably best described by Sir Thomas More when he said his head would soon be off his shoulders ‘if it could win the King a castle in France.’ But if there is one time I feel some sympathy for him it is probably here, at the time of Elizabeth’s birth. Married at eighteen to Catherine of Aragon,the widow of his brother, just after becoming King, Henry VIII married for political reasons and perhaps because of a confused sense of chivalry. His many gallant attempts to ensure the succession of a male heir met with anguish after anguish. The first child, a girl, born dead seven months after his union with Catherine, the second child a son, named for his father, found dead in his cradle within weeks of his birth, just days after Catherine and Henry celebrated their son’s safe arrival. Until their daughter’s birth, the ‘Bloody Mary’ of history, the list of tragedy goes on and on. Even Mary’s live birth could be seen as a tragedy, especially when you remember how dreadful her life would be, not only for herself but also for others.
By 1518, the last of Catherine and Henry’s dead babies had been buried, Catherine, her body worn out by the constant child bearing, seven children in nine years, would show no further signs of pregnancy. And that’s not really surprising, since by that time the King no longer cohabited with her. Before this time, in 1516, the King already questioned the validity of his marriage. And being a good Bible scholar, he soon located the appropriate passage in Leviticus, which said if a man married his brother’s widow the marriage would bear no fruit. The King ignored another text in Deuteronomy saying a man should marry his brother’s widow, raising up living children in his dead brother’s name. Henry did have one acknowledged, living son- Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond– born to Bessie Blount in 1519. So, to him, the problem clearly had nothing to do with him. Even though very much part of the King’s character to do what best suited his own purposes, it seems he really believed all the dead children born in his marriage was God’s judgement upon him for taking as wife the relict of his dead brother.
When King first cast his gaze in the direction of Anne Boleyn he was a man of 32, very much in his prime, with a wife who was five years older than him and looked far years older than her years. I believe Anne was about sixteen, in love with her first love, Hal Percy, Northumberland’s heir, and with a sister pregnant with a child that may have been the King’s. Cardinal Wolsey destroyed Anne’s relationship with Hal Percy, at the King’s command. I see Anne as heart-broken then and not desiring the honour of being the next Boleyn girl bedded by the King, Anne was probably relieved to be sent home. When she came back to court she seems to have wanted revenge, especially revenge towards Wolsey, a man who called her foolish and an upstart. For the next six years she tantalised and fascinated the King. By the time she gave him what she wanted, probably after being made Marquess of Pembroke, I think she discovered the hunted game was in fact really herself.
Not long after they first became lovers, Anne found herself pregnant. The King, declaring his first marriage invalid, quickly wed her in a secret morning service. Anna Boleyn, a dark haired woman with a slender neck, which would one day be such an easy task for a French executioner’s sword, was five months pregnant when crowned Queen of England. By the time the baby was due to born, the King rested easily in the reassurance of soothsayers that the child would be all he and England wanted. So reassured was the King he had even drawn up proclamations announcing the birth of the Prince, to be named either Henry or Edward. Then Elizabeth was born, and her parents grieved, never knowing that one-day she would be the best of the Tudor monarchs, a monarch who would give her name to an age.