Monday, June 18, 2007

Shallowpool Henry VIII Joins My Collection

This weekend I won the bid on a Shallowpool Henry VIII doll. Shallowpool dolls were created by three ladies who started the cottage industry in the early 1950's in a workshop in the small village of Shallowpool, near Looe in Cornwall, England.

You can see other examples of Shallowpool dolls at:

I paid a premium for Henry - $100 - but he is in mint condition and relatively rare. I also have a particular affection for dolls of Henry VIII. I just finished reading Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII" and I found it gave me a lot of insight into the King's character. I have much more sympathy for him now than I did when all I had ever heard about him was that he had six wives and executed two of them.

As the second son of Henry VII, Henry was never groomed to be king. His older brother Arthur was the heir apparent so Henry grew up relatively ignored by his parents and other members of his father's court. Since he was not to be king, he was actually educated to be a churchman. Therefore his knowledge of scripture was quite extensive and he was a formidable scholar with a passion for astronomy, music, and poetry. I didn't realize until I read George's book that Henry VIII wrote the song I memorized as a young piano student - Greensleeves.

When the sickly Arthur died just months after his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, Henry was suddenly thrust into the role of heir although he realized he would never supplant his brother in his parents' affections. He tried diligently to learn the art of Kingship from his now ailing father and ascended the throne at the relatively tender age of seventeen. Soon after, he married his brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon.

According to George, the couple loved each other and it was not until they had endured the birth of seven dead offspring, the last being a malformed "monster" along with the unwillingness of the French monarch to betroth one of his offspring to Henry's only surviving child, Mary, did Henry begin proceedings to end the marriage. The French were the first to claim that Mary was cursed as a daughter born of an incestuous marriage, citing Leviticus' warning about a man marrying a brother's widow. As a learned churchman, Henry, faced with the mounting evidence of what he perceived as God's disfavor, sought the means to rectify what he probably truly perceived as a mistake on his part.

Of course, this action was complicated by the fact that Katherine, already quite a bit older than Henry, bore the physical deterioration of someone who has endured eight pregnancies in relatively short order. She suffered from arthritic hips and could not share in her young vibrant husband's passion for riding and dancing. As was common during the period, Henry had taken mistresses to expend his physical appetites. However, when Anne Boleyn caught his eye, he soon found himself in a relationship where she ( or actually, her father, the ambitious Earl Thomas Boleyn) dictated the terms rather than the King.

The Boleyns capitalized on the King's "Great Matter" and, through the relationship with Anne, pressured the King to do whatever it would take to make it possible to make her Queen. That would eventually include separating the church in England from the control of the Pope in Rome. This was ironic since, at one point, Henry had been named defender of the faith when he wrote a rebuttal to the charges against the Catholic church posed by Martin Luther. Even after Henry became head of the church in England, he viewed himself as Catholic and a member of the true faith, not an adherent to Protestantism. Despite this, however, his appointed ministers, Thomas Cromwell chief among them, moved to dissolve the remaining monasteries in England and eliminate any allegiance to the Pope.

"Cromwell was the most prominent of those who suggested to Henry VIII that the king make himself head of the English Church, and saw the Act of Supremacy of 1534 through Parliament. In 1535 Henry appointed Cromwell as his last Vicegerent in Spirituals. This gave him the power as supreme judge in ecclesiastical cases and the office provided a single unifying institution over the two provinces of the English Church (Canterbury and York). As Henry's vicar-general, he presided over the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which began with his visitation of the monasteries and abbeys, announced in 1535 and begun in the winter of 1536. As a reward, he was created Earl of Essex on 18 April, 1540. He is also the architect of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, which united England and Wales .Although the Dissolution of the Monasteries often has been portrayed as a cynical money-grabbing initiative, Cromwell and his supporters had genuine theological reservations about the idea of monastic life, specifically on the nature of intercessory prayers for the dead." - Wikipedia

George points out numerous indescretions by Anne Boleyn who loved to be doted upon by swarms of courtiers. Although the question of her incestuous relationship with her own brother George may have been a case of overzealous prosecutors, you are left with little doubt that she deserved her fate. There is even a suggestion that she was engaged in a poison plot against Katherine of Aragon. Apparently when Katherine died, an autopsy revealed nothing pointing to a cause of death except a black growth or section on her heart. The physicians told Henry it was evidence of poison although it could have been simply heart muscle damaged by a clot. Anyway, the end result, his ordering Anne's execution, was hardly capricious or due simply to the fact that the only son she bore him was stillborn.

His marriage to Jane Seymour was apparently a love match. Although she too had ambitious family members, her affection for Henry and his for her appeared to be genuine. He mourned her loss for the rest of his life.

Another interesting point George makes in her book is that Henry, although physically repulsed by Anne of Cleves, calling her the "Flemish Mare", actually learned to love her wit and intelligence. The scene of their wedding night is portrayed as both comical and tragic. Henry attempts to caress her but finds her body sagging and less than maiden-like. When he leaps up partially exposing himself, Anne points and roars with laughter at his apparent impotence.

Although Anne feared for her life, knowing the fate of Henry's other Ann, Henry, because of his affection for her, adopted her as his sister when their marriage was annulled because Henry was incapable of consumating it. This allowed her to retain court status and a comfortable stipend. It even gave her a certain degree of independence she would have never had if she had returned to the duchy of Cleves. She subsequently enjoyed visits to court as an honored guest and even participated in family gatherings during the holiday season.

Henry's next marriage to Catherine Howard was again, one engineered by ambitious relatives, with Henry blinded by his lifelong need to feel loved by someone. Catherine herself was far from innocent and apparently had a long history of licentious behavior. Her involvment in a plot to eliminate the aging king was certainly justification for her execution. I got the impression that although Henry realized that she had to be eliminated, he hesitated to order it, not unlike the Roman Emperor Claudius when faced with the treachery of his beloved Messalina. It was this execution that seemed to haunt him for the rest of his life. George portrays Henry tormented by visions of a headless Catherine running through the hallways of his palace and sitting at his dinner table.

His last Queen Catherine was portrayed as a kind and sensitive woman. I was saddened to read that as Henry's health deteriorated with symptoms that sound very much like kidney failure (severe bloating, headaches, etc.) he would have episodes of insanity where he would order the imprisonment of those closest to him. Catherine suffered one such imprisonment. However, when Henry's symptoms eased he would regain control of himself and release the unfortunate targets of his previous paranoid episodes.

Henry actually had a son by Katherine of Aragon that appeared healthy but died after just a few weeks of life. I sometimes wonder how much different history would have been if the boy had lived and the "Great Matter" had never arisen to split the faithful in England away from the Catholic Church and thereby reinforce the Protestant Reformation.