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King Henry VIII


One of the most important off-stage characters in The Falconer's Quarry is Henry VIII. Lucy has never even seen him, and probably has less idea than you do what he looked like - remember, this was long before television, the internet or even newspapers! But you can tell that the King is still a really powerful figure in her life from the hushed tones she uses when she talks about him.

King Henry VIII does seem to have been larger than life. He ruled for 38 years, from 1509 until his death in 1547, two years after The Falconer's Quarry is set. Probably the most famous thing about him was that he had six wives, two of whom he had beheaded!

What I didn't realise until I researched The Falconer's Quarry was that he was married to the first wife, Catherine of Aragon (who, by the way, had been married to his brother before) for over twenty years. The other five marriages were all much closer together, including two weddings in one year, in 1540.

Henry VIII, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger

Religion was immensely important in Tudor times. It controlled almost every aspect of people's lives, and there were a lot of things that people couldn't do because the Catholic Church didn't allow it. This included getting divorced. So when Henry decided he wanted to leave Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, he had to break away from the Catholic Church in Rome, taking all of England with him.

He made himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, and dissolved the monasteries (in this case, 'dissolved' means that he had them closed down). Monks were not supposed to make money but some were very corrupt, so some monasteries had amassed vast amounts of treasure. Henry claimed their riches for himself, which you might think was fair enough. After all, he was king. Unfortunately, however, many ancient and beautiful buildings and objects were destroyed in the process, so the dissolution of the monasteries is generally thought to be a Bad Thing.

Sadly for Anne Boleyn, even though Henry left the Catholic Church to marry her, she didn't give birth to a son, but rather to a daughter, Elizabeth. When rumours began that Anne might have had an affair with another courtier, Henry had her beheaded. Soon after, he married Jane Seymour, wife number three, who did give birth to a son, but died less than two weeks later (before Henry had had a chance to get bored with her).

Two years after that, Henry married Anne of Cleves, who he had never met prior to the marriage. According to one story, he said she looked like a horse. In any case, he soon decided she wasn't the woman for him, and divorced her. Within months, he was married to 17-year old Catherine Howard. The infatuation didn't last long. Catherine had an affair, a very unwise thing to do when one of your husband's ex-wives was beheaded for the mere suspicion of carrying on with another man. The outcome: decapitation, which is to say, Catherine Howard was beheaded just like Anne Boleyn.

Henry's last wife, was Catherine Parr who he married less than four years before he died, grossly obese and in terrible health generally, at the age of 55. Catherine Parr outlived him, thereby completing the rhyme by which we remember the fates of the six wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

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