Saturday 7 March 2015

The Tudors: Divorce and Dissolution

On this day 7th March in 1530 King Henry VIII's divorce request against Catherine of Aragon was denied by the Pope triggering a remarkable series of events that will finally conclude later this month.

The Battle for the Roses
On 22nd August 1485, Henry Tudor became King Henry VII of England upon defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses, effectively bringing to an end the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York.

Marching through Wales on his way to Bosworth Field Henry flew the ancient battle standard of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, 7th century king of Gwynedd, the Red Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch), claiming direct descent from the noble families of Wales. The Red Dragon is indeed ancient and can be traced to the Arthurian Legend when Merlin prophesied of a battle between a red and a white dragon, the red dragon being the Britons and the white dragon representing the invading Saxons.

Henry carried the Red Dragon through London in his victory parade with the flag carried to St. Paul's Cathedral to be blessed. The arms of Cadwaladr were also prominent at his coronation. With the victory Henry became the first Tudor Monarch of England, his opponent Richard III was killed in the battle and the last king of the House of York. After the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor added his family colours, green and white, representing the Tudor House, to his Red Dragon flag, today the National flag of Wales.

In the aftermath of the battle Richard's crown was found and presented to Henry who was crowned king at the top of Crown Hill, near the village of Stoke Golding. Richard's body was stripped naked and bound over a horse and taken to Leicester where it was exhibited in a church. After two days, Richard's corpse was interred in a plain unmarked tomb within the church of the Greyfriars Friary Church.

Arthur Prince of Wales
In an effort to strengthen the Tudor claim to the throne and emphasise his family's Welsh ancestry, Henry had royal genealogists trace his lineage back to the ancient British rulers and decided on naming his firstborn son after the legendary King Arthur. Subsequently, Winchester was identified as Camelot where his wife, Elizabeth of York, was compelled to give birth to his heir.

Born at Saint Swithun's Priory (today Winchester Cathedral Priory) on 20th September 1486 Arthur was Henry and Elizabeth's eldest child with the young Prince viewed as "a living symbol" of not only the union between the House of Tudor and the House of York, but also of the end of the Wars of the Roses; he was the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor.

Before Arthur was two years old he was betrothed to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella, rulers of Spain. Arthur and Catherine married on 14th November 1501 in Old St. Paul's Cathedral. After the wedding and celebrations, the young couple moved to Ludlow Castle on the Welsh border but less than six months later on 2nd April 1502 Arthur was dead, victim of an unknown ailment.

Fourteen months after Arthur's death Catherine, Princess of Wales, was betrothed to his younger brother, the future Henry VIII, who was too young to marry at the time. Canon law forbade men to marry their brother's widow but Catherine testified that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, therefore the marriage was deemed not valid and received dispensation from the Pope. Following King Henry VII's death in April 1509, the young King's first priority was to marry Catherine in June of the same year.

Supremacy & Suppression
Frustrated by his lack of a male heir after 24 years of marriage, King Henry VIII lost interest in Catherine and became fascinated with Anne Boleyn, the Queen's lady-in-waiting. The King began to petition the Pope for an annulment claiming that the marriage was cursed as it went against the biblical teaching that a man should never marry his brother's widow. But on the 7th March in 1530 the King's request for a divorce was rejected by the Pope.

The political and legal debate continued for six years with Catherine seeking not only to retain her position as the King's true and legitimate wife but also that of her daughter Mary, insisting that she and Arthur, her first husband and Henry's brother, did not consummate their marriage and therefore were not truly husband and wife.

By 1533 Anne Boleyn was pregnant forcing Henry to act; his solution was to reject the power of the Pope in England and instruct the Archbishop of Canterbury to grant the annulment. The subsequent divorce led to the Reformation in England and schism with Rome with Henry then declaring that he, not the Pope, was supreme head of England's church through the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534.

In 1536 Henry began the legal process in which the monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, would be disbanded through the First Act of Suppression (1536) and the Second Act of Suppression (1539). During this period around 800 religious houses were either demolished or disbanded.

One such was Greyfriars Friary Church, Leicester, the last known location of the body of Richard III. With the demolition of the church and the site levelled following its dissolution in 1538 Richard's tomb appeared to be lost forever.

The Return of the King
The search for Richard's body began in August 2012. The archaeological excavation was led by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and Leicester City Council with the Richard III Society.

By comparing historical maps the search located the foundations of the Friary Church where Richard's body had been hastily buried in 1485, located beneath a modern-day city centre car park. On the first day of the dig a human skeleton belonging to a man in his thirties was uncovered. The remains showed signs of severe injuries and had several unusual physical features, most notably a severe curvature of the back. DNA analysis has matched the remains to descendants of Richard's sister Anne of York concluding beyond reasonable doubt that the skeleton was that of Richard III.

Richard's remains will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral on 26 March 2015.

Copyright © 2015 Edward Watson

Pictures: Wikimedia commons

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