|Canterbury Cathedral, the center |
of the Anglican Communion
So here is where left this story. The year 1527. Henry is 36 years old. Katherine is 42. It has been nine years since she has become pregnant and further offspring are most unlikely. There is one legitimate child to succeed Henry on the throne, but that child is a daughter, the Princess Mary. The one time previous that a woman ruled England was a disaster—a time of civil war as male relatives contested the throne. England has just gone through a long dynastic struggle and there are male claimants to the throne that Henry has been able to hold in check, but would Mary be able to do so? What can Henry do to guarantee the stability of the Tudor dynasty?
Henry knows that he is capable of producing a male heir. Katherine has borne three sons, but they all died in infancy? Is God punishing Henry for something? Is there something wrong about his marriage to Katherine for which he is being punished?
Moreover Henry has an illegitimate son who is alive and healthy—Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, the son of Bessie Blount, the one mistress whom Henry had publically acknowledged as royal mistress. Could he succeed to the throne despite his illegitimacy?
Henry seriously considered naming his illegitimate son to be his heir but Katherine would have none of it. Katherine’s proud Spanish blood would not tolerate the idea that a Princess, granddaughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Kings and greatest European monarchs of their day, would be supplanted by a bastard, even a King’s bastard. Moreover, it is unlikely that the nobility of England would have accepted the boy. In the end, the matter would have been mute. Henry FitzRoy died before his father, reaching only 17 years of age. But in 1527 Henry, of course, did not know that.
But was God punishing Henry for something? Katherine had been married to Henry’s brother, Arthur, but had been widowed after five months. Katherine, and her chaperone, had claimed that the marriage was never consummated. That may or may not have been the case. Deuteronomy, chapter 25, commands that if a man should die childless, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children to his brother’s memory. On the other hand, the Book of Leviticus prohibits such a marriage. There is a dilemma here. Catholic Canon Law prohibited the marriage of siblings-in-law but would give a dispensation when petitioned for it, particularly when the first marriage had not been consummated. The Canon Lawyers claimed that when the marriage had not been consummated such a marriage was precisely what Deuteronomy required in terms of raising up children to the deceased brother’s memory. Henry had always believed that Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, but now he was having doubts. Maybe God was punishing him for a forbidden marriage by depriving him of male heirs. After all, three young princes had died in infancy.
Henry began to see a way out of his dilemma. Maybe his marriage to Katherine could be annulled and he could still produce an heir with a new wife.