Queen Weekend: The Ladies of Tudor, Part 1

In celebration of the Royal Wedding, here at Geeky Chic we are enjoying a weekend of historical delight where we come to the heart of what it is all about: Their Majesties, the Queens!  More than one?  Of course!  Historical geekdom all but demands it of  me to take a look at four Queens who have become engrained in permanent culture conscious. From the pages of academic history books, many a play, film, and series has been made about the House of Tudor. The steadfast loyalty of Katherine of Aragon.The desirable Anne Boleyn.  The daughters of each woman: the devout Mary and the determined Elizabeth.  While he had six wives total, from these mother-daughter pairs we find strong historical significance.  Katharine of Aragon was the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the King and Queen of Spain.  Her nephew?  The Holy Roman Emperor.  Anne Boleyn was the woman who became more than a mere mistress. With her intelligence, education, charm, and wit from her years at French court she kept Henry VIII ensnared for seven years before he was able to claim her as a bride.  “The Great Matter“, the case involving the King’s desire to seek an end to his marriage with Katharine  in order to marry Anne, was the curiosity of Europe, the scandal of the day’s Christendom, and the heart of the Reformation that would take England away from loyalty to Rome.

Henry VIII moved through six marriages in all hoping to secure a male heir or else lose the dynasty forever.  If only he would have known that his two daughters, each declared illegitimate in their time, would be the strongest ways in which the name would go on.   Edward VI, his one living son, died at the age of fifteen from consumption. He was only king for a meager six years, too young to work much for his beliefs due to being in minority.  Other Tudor monarch, Lady Jane Grey, reigned for only 9 days before Queen Mary took the place her brother deprived her of  in his will.

The Renaissance idealism of education, music,  and art were a reality in the court of  King Henry VIII.  While women were not put on stools for being of a learned mind, these mothers and daughters were just that. Let us have our look, shall we?  With the help of some fan videos from Youtube and the television series The Tudors as source material, sit back, enjoy, and decide for yourself among the four a favorite!


Katherine of Aragon
Motto: Humble and Loyal
Badge: Spanish Pomegranite
How She Rocked the Throne: Katherine was at first the wife of Henry’s elder brother, Prince Arthur.  Six months after their marriage he was dead, and if Katherine should go back to Spain she would take her Spanish dowry and the hefty entitlements of being a widowed Princess Dowager of Wales with her!   The marriage to Arthur  was by her own admission never consummated which left Henry free to pursue her as a wife when it was to be that he was now to be the reigning monarch. Henry did have issue from this  marriage, including a celebrated prince who died but weeks after his birth, but the only surviving heir was Princess Mary.

She endured being a push-me-pull-you between not one, but two English princes for the benefit what she carried with her.  She had children that ultimately died, and she spent many years pregnant or mourning their losses.  She was the undisputed wife for eighteen years until Anne Boleyn came in to play, and spent several years after suffering Henry’s harsh treatment and scorn.  Her daughter was forced to become a bastard in her lifetime, and her crown was taken from her head. If you thought the women of today have issues with their men of power, they could take a lesson in holding to conviction from the Lady of Aragon.

Portrayed Here By: Maria Doyle Kennedy – what else can be said but exquisite?  Whether or not one feels the series holds for them historical relevance, few would deny that Maria Doyle Kennedy breathed new life in to this historic figure.  She was intelligent, regal, striking, and steadfast.  You could feel the emotions of mother, queen, and woman in every turn she made.  Her gestures, her lines?  Bravo!  The simmering boil under her Katherine’s  seething exchanges with Wolsey leads one to believe one thing: what if Katherine had not been as loyal to her English subjects as she was? With but a breath she could have summoned one hell of a Spanish storm on Henry’s realm in the form her her nephew!  This woman was a lioness who choose not to extend her claws to the fullest extent.

Her grace and fortitude meant that she never considered herself as anything less than a Queen, yet always strove to be the obedient wife.  She loved her husband with everything that she had.  A devout Catholic, her beliefs put no earthly king before what she believed to be the undeniable truth. Katherine would not deny her marriage, nor leave it to go quietly in to a convent.  Even when she was denied her daughter, she would not bow down.

The Reformation and her husband’s break from Rome paved the way for the reign of her rival Anne Boleyn.

Anne Boleyn

Motto: The Most Happy
Badge: Falcon

How She Rocked the Throne:  Anne Boleyn: the woman who wouldn’t settle for the title of Official Mistress. All or nothing…and she got it.  She enjoyed the sort of breeding that led to her being an English ‘It’ girl on her arrival back from France. Her father was a diplomatic man, and his charm won him many admirers, and his daughter a place in esteemed circles. She attended as well the Archduchess Margaret of Austria, Mary Tudor who became the Queen Consort of France on her marriage to Louis XII of France, and on to Queen Claudette.  In these circles she would have been exposed to  literature, poetry, dance, music, art, and language.  When she returned to English court she brought with her French fashion!  Out with the English gable hoods and in with the French crescent moon shapes!  What are those long bell sleeves she wears?   Those dresses, those shoes!   Yes, France has a long history of being the European epicenter of fashion and for centuries no less.  Anne Boleyn merely helped it get across to the British Isles that much more.

The beauty in her features depended on who looked at her.  She was labeled as beautiful in turns, plain in others, and said to have six fingers on her left hand and an imperfection hidden under high collar gowns on her neck.  One fact that seems to be agreed on was that she was dark where the fashion of the day was golden heads.  Dark of hair, darker complexion, and dark eyes.  Later in life her features would be speculation for her witchcraft charges. Early on? They were her literal crowning glory. While there is no doubt she did eventually lay with the King prior to her marriage to him (she was pregnant with Elizabeth Tudor at her coronation) what can be known is that she held out for several years. If the King wasn’t getting the goods, what did he get?  He received an intellectual equal unafraid to show her merits. She entertained him, charmed him.  Now that, my friends, takes serious skill. If only she would have remembered to stay charming after she received her long sought after prize, perhaps her reign might have been prolonged. She became erratic, paranoid, and a nag.  She expected he would have no other lovers before her. Oh dear, did no one inform her that once she became the Queen of England she was expected to retain her vigor only so much as it pleased her lord, and her chief duty was to get to making that son?  Like her predecessor, Anne suffered a series of miscarriages. She spent the greater part of her reign pregnant. To have gone from the jewel of Henry’s eye to feel not only his scorn, but the scorn of the court she altered must have been a scathing slap to the face.  All the promises of happiness were quickly replaced with doubt, gossip, and horror.

Portrayed Here By: Natalie Dormer – this woman made the rest of the series a tough act to follow after Seasons 1 and 2!  She joins the ranks of a  many women who have taken on one of the most scandalous affairs in world history including Geneviève Bujold (Anne of the Thousand Days), Charlotte Rampling (The Six Wives of Henry VII, BBC 1973) and even Helena Bonham Carter (Henry VII). The most recent portrayal of this character besides Dormer’s is Natalie Portman (The Other Boleyn Girl)  While one could discuss the ins and outs of each performance all day long, this moment belongs to Dormer. She shines from her physical appearance to her ability to carry off an Anne from youth to execution.  You see her become disappointed at being the tool used to secure her family’s advancement after the casting off of her sister Mary, rise to the occasion, and fall in love. She is the fitting object of his desire, and at first careful, appreciative of her rising power. Why, she even knows how to manipulate it well and it leads to Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall.  As time progresses you see her jealousy, rage, despair, mood swings, and the eventual realization of her worry that something would happen to her.

Extra Lore: After her execution on May 19, 1536 on the Tower Green, a piece of her was still said to remain.  A poem entitled ‘ O Death, Rock Me Asleep’ was said to have been written by her during the last hours of her life.  Academic research still hasn’t solved the mystery of the poem.  It is said the idea of this romantic legend came about during the Victorian era, who looked back on times past with the same romantic fondness. Other research suggests that the composition style of the piece does place it as period accurate for Anne’s time, but is it hers?   Regardless as to whether it is hers or not, it is a tragic, beautiful work of art.

The following version of the poem is set to music and sung by Katy Rose.  I feel she captured the haunting quality well. The words to the original poem are also included for your reading pleasure.

Oh Death, rock me asleep,

Bring me to quiet rest,

Let pass my weary guiltless ghost

Out of my careful breast.

Toll on, thou passing bell;

Ring out my doleful knell;

Let thy sound my death tell.

Death doth draw nigh;

There is no remedy.

My pains who can express?

Alas, they are so strong;

My dolour will not suffer strength

My life for to prolong.

Toll on, thou passing bell;

Ring out my doleful knell;

Let thy sound my death tell.

Death doth draw nigh;

There is no remedy.

Alone in prison strong

I wait my destiny.

Woe worth this cruel hap that I

Should taste this misery!

Toll on, thou passing bell;

Ring out my doleful knell;

Let thy sound my death tell.

Death doth draw nigh;

There is no remedy.

Farewell, my pleasures past,

Welcome, my present pain!

I feel my torments so increase

That life cannot remain.

Cease now, thou passing bell;

Rung is my doleful knell;

For the sound my death doth tell.

Death doth draw nigh;

There is no remedy.

Stay tuned for Part II when we examine the daughters of these women – Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor!

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3 thoughts on “Queen Weekend: The Ladies of Tudor, Part 1

  1. Wonderful post on these amazing ladies. Each had a weight on their shoulders that others might have buckled under and even in some of what could be their weakest moments they yet remained strong. I can’t wait to see your post on Mary and Elizabeth!

    1. Glad that you were able to enjoy! That is why I find these women so fascinating, each had a weight that could have undone them sooner than it did, but it didn’t. The weight also became a generational burden as it passed on to their daughter. Mary grew to be a popular figure as time went by before she came to the throne, and I imagine Elizabeth had to work doubly as hard not to be stay in the shadow of being the daughter of the ‘Boleyn Whore’

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