Support Group For Maligned Queens: Henry VIII Edition!
Due to other writing demands I am currently using roughly 1% of my brain and don’t have the willpower to cope with The Boleyn Bride, which was my original plan. Fear not, the full horror will be unveiled eventually — meaning, the first week of September, because I’m going on vacation in the Southwest until then. For now, I hope you’ll enjoy a shameless ripoff of Kathryn Warner’s Support Group For People Unfairly Maligned In Historical Fiction. Since Henry VIII’s wives were a fairly large demographic in themselves, I thought they might like to have their own group … for a while, anyway.
ANNE BOLEYN: Bienvenue, ladies! Please make yourselves comfortable. Oh, Jane, please try not to sit on on any of the dogs. No, Kate, I don’t know where your pet monkey went. Do those who like embroidery have their embroidery out? All right, I’ll begin. I am Queen Anne, otherwise known as Anne Boleyn, Lady Anne Rochford, and —
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: I believe we all know who you are. And naturally, everyone knows the daughter of Castile and Aragon, and true Queen of England. Now perhaps our successors will be permitted to speak. I don’t believe we’ve been introduced yet.
JANE SEYMOUR: I am Jane the queen, daughter of Sir John Seymour, of —
ANNE BOLEYN: And I believe we all know who you are, you conniving little whey-faced minx.
JANE SEYMOUR: Oh, not you too! Just because you’ve been the heroine of more than a hundred novels doesn’t mean you have to believe your own hype. Well, I’ll have you know that my complexion was considered extremely fashionable back when it mattered, and of all the things you would have considered insulting, that’s about the last one. There were lots of ladies who absolutely envied me for my complexion.
ANNE OF CLEVES: I wouldn’t have minded having one like it myself.
CATHERINE PARR: Though the gable hood was an unfortunate fashion moment.
ANNE BOLEYN: Oh, terribly.
KATHERINE HOWARD: Didn’t you die in a gable hood? At least, that’s what I heard. When I died, I made sure to wear one so I could be just like you. Though I certainly don’t remember taking all my clothes off in order to practice putting my head on the block, but I was pretty stressed out at the time.
ANNE BOLEYN: Yes, I did wear a gable hood then, but when one is on the brink of death, the demands of fashion change. Though one thing I never did was design a special sleeve to hide my nonexistent sixth finger, which wasn’t actually a sign of witchcraft because it wasn’t real. Besides, if I had actually been a witch, I would have got Henry down the aisle about six and half years earlier.
KATHERINE HOWARD: He got me in about six months. Of course, Thomas Culpepper got me later. Now he was a dream. I was pretty upset when that one book showed me betraying my friend and telling him that she’d witnessed him raping a peasant woman. As if Tom was a rapist!
CATHERINE PARR: Wasn’t he?
KATHERINE HOWARD: The King pardoned him, so it couldn’t have been as bad as all that.
ANNE BOLEYN: What about the man he stabbed to death?
KATHERINE HOWARD: He was threatening Tom, he told me. I mean, Tom told me.
CATHERINE PARR: And people criticize my choice of Toms.
JANE SEYMOUR: Can we get back to me for a moment, pleased? Aside from the totally untrue implication that I had a bad complexion, I believe I’ve been described as an idiot, a fool, a moron, and as stupid as a sheep. This is when I’m not being a serpent-like conniver who somehow manages to pull off the craziest coup in history by persuading my husband to execute his current wife, which I should point out is something that never happened once before in the country’s history. I mean, in one book I’m sewing a nightgown for my wedding to Henry before the Lady Elizabeth is even born! To tell you the truth, the arrest was as big a surprise to me as it was to most people at court. And of course I’m always plotting with poor Jane Rochford to bring you down, when she lost the most of all when you and your brother fell. The most of all besides you, I mean.
ANNE BOLEYN: I also can’t say I’m flattered by the implication that I was too stupid to notice that one of my maids of honour was either barely capable of breathing without assistance or was so obviously determined to supplant me that any sane queen would have hustled her off to the country as fast as humanly possible. I still had it worse, though. Has even a single novelist accused you of having sex with your brother?
JANE SEYMOUR: No, but quite a few have accused my father of sleeping with my sister-in-law. Not to mention the times when Henry supposedly raped me.
ANNE BOLEYN: Oh, they have him do that to me too. Doesn’t it get annoying? Heaven knows Henry has enough to worry about in the afterlife without being accused of that, too. Though it was much worse when one novelist had me trying to get someone to compromise the Lady Mary. I couldn’t stand her, of course, but there are some lines you just don’t cross.
JANE SEYMOUR: Not to mention that quite a few times they’ve made me get pregnant before I was married and then have a convenient miscarriage. Based on zero contemporary accounts whatsoever.
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: Not quite, dear — I think M. Chapuys may have made some remarks on the subject of your reputation, but although he was a wonderful man he could be terribly cynical at times. I told him as much when he visited me before I died. And I knew you better than he did, anyway.
ANNE OF CLEVES: Can someone else get a few words in?
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: Heavily-accented words, you mean? I get so tired of these novelists who are always giving me “broken English” and “a heavy accent” as if that were some sort of reason for casting off a lawful wife. That and calling me “dumpy”. Of course I had put on a few extra pounds in the process of bearing Henry’s children, which tends to be forgotten for some reason. And my English wasn’t nearly as bad as all that, just read the letters I wrote. You can’t live in a country for thirty years and not at least have a competent grasp of the language.
ANNE BOLEYN: And while I concede that we weren’t always on the best of terms, I can’t imagine where anyone got the idea that you were the one who broke up my engagement to Henry Percy and then embarrassed me in front of all the other courtiers for kicks. I mean, I definitely got tired of all the shirt-sewing, but it wasn’t that bad.
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: I was a little shocked when one book showed my gentleman-usher trying to throw you out the window. I had better control of my servants than that.
ANNE OF CLEVES: I would hope so! Of course, I barely spoke English when I married Henry but at least nobody uses that to justify divorcing me. I just wish some of them wouldn’t take that silly “Flanders mare” thing to such an extreme that I’m shown acting like a human sow. If I’d really smeared food all over my face and been incapable of understanding the simplest statement, my brother would probably have had me locked up, not sent me off to become the Queen of England. Oh, and Henry never actually called me a Flanders mare. I just wanted to straighten that out.
KATHERINE HOWARD: He called you lots of other things.
ANNE BOLEYN: Oh come on, Katherine, that’s not necessary. Besides, according to one book, you and she got along very well indeed, so you should probably be more polite.
KATHERINE HOWARD: Oh lord, that thing!
ANNE OF CLEVES: I don’t know — at least it was a change from being a hideous sexless moron who lied about her age. It finally occurred to someone that maybe I had my own emotional life! Of course, not that particular emotion. Not with you, at least.
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: Lied about your age? Wait a minute — aren’t we two the only ones with documented birthdays? Why on earth would someone make you do that?
ANNE OF CLEVES: Search me. Though if people really want to make me interesting, they should give me a ghost story. Every single one of you is supposed to haunt at least one palace, but what do I get? Nichts. I don’t even get to haunt Hever Castle, and I lived there for a long time.
ANNE BOLEYN: Of course not, I haunt Hever. Stroke of eight on Christmas Eve, or so I’ve been informed. I’ve never been back, myself, so I have no idea who’s actually doing it. Maybe it’s my sister-in-law — she’s certainly had enough to be upset about over the centuries. Sleeping with half the court, including my husband, stabbing my brother in the back, trying to poison me, killing one of my ladies-in-waiting … it just goes on.
JANE SEYMOUR: Maybe we should invite her to the next meeting.
CATHERINE PARR: But she was never Queen.
ANNE OF CLEVES: True, but I think she has as much right to be here as you have.
CATHERINE PARR: What?
ANNE OF CLEVES: You may have been queen, but when were you ever maligned? Novelists love you!
ANNE BOLEYN: She’s right! No adultery, no sorcery, no backstabbing, no ridiculous incest or imaginary miscarriages or baby-burnings! You’re the Perfect Virtuous Protestant Widow who outfoxed King Henry! You don’t even have an extra digit!
CATHERINE PARR: What about Thomas Seymour? I overlooked a lot with him!
JANE SEYMOUR: Yes, but you’re never shown driving him to it — you’re always the educated, virtuous wife who’s much more sinned against than sinning.
CATHERINE PARR: That quote isn’t contemporary.
JANE SEYMOUR: I’m outside of time, I’ll quote whatever I want!
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: It’s true that you don’t seem to have much to contribute in terms of actual maligning.
ANNE BOLEYN: If there’s anyone who’s an authority on the subject, it’s me. I say you are a queen, but not a maligned queen. My sister-in-law is maligned, but not a queen. If she doesn’t qualify to be in this group, then you don’t, either.
CATHERINE PARR: Fine. Invite her. Though I can’t say I ever cared for her much. How she could have been so stupid —
JANE BOLEYN: Was someone calling me?
CATHERINE PARR: Your sister-in-law was doing that, Lady Rochford. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can find the Forgotten Historical First Spouses support group and have a chat with Lord Borough and Lord Latimer.
ANNE OF CLEVES: Say hello to Francis of Lorraine while you’re at it. I’m still not sure if we were spouses or not.
ANNE BOLEYN: If Percy’s there, say hello to him as well, though I’m not entirely sure if we were married either.
KATHERINE HOWARD: Can you look for Francis Dereham? I think we were married. Maybe we weren’t. Archbishop Cranmer didn’t seem too sure.
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: Arthur was a sweet boy, but we were definitely not married. Not in the eyes of God. But say hello from me if you see him.
CATHERINE PARR: On second thought, I think I’ll stay here. Lady Rochford, why don’t you introduce yourself to the group ….