Epilogue: What happened to the children of Henry VIII?

Short answer: In soap-opera terms, Henry VIII’s kids were totally The Colbys to his Dynasty…only maybe not so much with the UFO abductions.

Edward VI was nine when dad handed over the reigns – or, more accurately, handed him over to his uncle, Edward Seymour, the Protector. (actually, Henry had envisioned a co-regency of many nobles, but in true Aaron Spelling fashion, whoopsie, the will got lost in all the confusion surrounding the burial.)

Little Eddie was quite the fun kid. Fanatically Protestant, ie disapproving of anything that might be remotely construed as self-indulgent; the phrase most historians use is ‘priggish’. One of those pale little child geniuses forever trying to win acceptance with the popular kids – or in this case, live up to his larger-than-life father. The story goes that he once called for a pet falcon and proceeded to tear the poor thing to pieces bare-handed, remarking that this was how he was treated now, but when he reached the throne…well, you get the picture.

Meanwhile, his poor half-sister Mary is off working on all the traditional neuroses instilled by being caught in the middle of a nasty divorce. Her mother Katharine fought so long partly to keep her from being declared a bastard, and Mary – who was devoted to her anyway – took up her cause with a vengeance, defying her father and refusing to accept his remarriage (Anne Boleyn got so frustrated she’s on record as suggesting that Mary herself ‘be married to some varlet [servant]’ to bring down her pride).

The whole experience taught Mary two major things: a) Nothing is sure in this world but God and his True [Catholic] Church, and b) God’s purpose was that she live to reunite her country with Rome. Thus she stubbornly refused to bow to her brother’s reforming zeal, insisting that he was too young to decide such matters anyway, which you can imagine how well that went over.

So…cutting a long story short…Edward dies of consumption, having been persuaded on his deathbed by the evil Earl of Warwick to cut his bastard and/or Catholic sisters out of the succession. Which, the Earl kept piously insisting, had nothing at all to do with the fact that the next ‘weak and feeble’ female in line, Jane Grey, just happened to be his daughter-in-law.

Nobody was fooled. Only a woman she might’ve been, but Mary was the true Princess, King Hal’s daughter, accept no substitutes. Showing off a magnificent sense of moment (that was actually more likely inherited from Mom, not to mention Grandma Isabella of Spain) Mary raised an army, marched on London and retook her throne in just nine days. And the crowd went wild.

…At least, they did until Mary announced she was going to marry a [boo! hiss!] foreign prince, her Spanish cousin Philip II. Despite her courage in claiming the throne, despite an inspired take on her situation as analoguous to a mother anxious for the welfare of her children, she seems to have bought wholly into her inherent unfitness to rule. Besides which she was in her thirties and, well, you can only channel so much into good works, if the drift is clear. One look at Philip’s portrait and that was it.

Even then, things might still have been salvageable…except for a), which had never been out of Mary’s thoughts all this time. Kind and merciful as she could be personally, when it came to her faith, she was mercilessly single-minded as any Inquisitor. Her subjects’ souls depended on their returning to the Mother Church and if they weren’t going to go quietly, well, then, all the better they should provide nice bright signposts to Hell. As you can imagine, the finer points of this logic were lost on the people watching, for instance, a pregnant woman give birth to a baby that was promptly tossed back onto the pyre.

Enter Elizabeth, the ‘Bastard’ daughter of ‘The Great Whore’, as Katharine’s supporters had dubbed Queen Anne. Mary, as fervently devoted to her mother’s martyrdom in this as in all else, had taken up the quarrel in the next generation. Elizabeth, she was fond of telling her courtiers, was no princess; more likely her dad was Mark Smeaton, a common-or-garden-variety musician who’d been accused of adultery with Anne.

In reality, of course, Elizabeth looked a whole lot more like Henry than Mary herself. In contrast with her short, gruff, homely sister, the future Virgin Queen was tall, redheaded, comparatively beautiful (Cate Blanchett does bear a striking resemblance to official portraits). Also, Liz was a whole lot smarter, or at least shrewder. She spent the next several years ducking and dodging first various plots to put her on the throne, then the consequences.

About three hundred insta-martyrs – not to mention phantom pregnancies, money troubles and unsuccessful wars – later, ‘Bloody Mary’ was dead and her life’s mission in shambles. The courtiers practically fell all over themselves riding to Hatfield, where ‘our Elizabeth’ was quietly waiting. They found her, as the story has it, meditating under an oak; when she saw them approach, she rose and lifted her hands: “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!”

…Setting the stage for sixty years of the entire country wondering just how sincere she was at any given moment. Damn fine queen, though. You might have heard of her.

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