Lily's Corner

Incest In History: Tudor Lovers

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For history lovers, the Tudor Era holds a certain kind of enchantment. Whether it’s the scandals, the social wars, or the philosophical debates, one thing is for certain, people are obsessed with anything Tudor. Men and women alike scrutinize King Henry VIII’s love life, and for good reason. As an author of Incest Erotica, I especially love the Tudor Era. Why? Because there’s plenty of inspiration! The Tudor family wasn’t untouched by incest or rumors of incest. In that spirit, I’d like to share some interesting incest patterns of King Henry VIII and his family.

A Brief Introduction

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King Henry has always been a divisive figure. Many will blame him for England’s separation from the Catholic Church. Others yet, will recall the brutal way he disposed of unfavorable wives in his pursuit of a son and heir. Still, King Henry’s life is largely overshadowed by his outright lust. It’s not surprising many people focus on King Henry’s six wives, his pursuit of mistresses, or even his legitimate and illegitimate children alike. Thankfully, historians were not above capturing these scandalous affairs, giving us plenty to discuss. Where though, does one start to cover the incestuous desires of King Henry?

King Henry & His Brother’s Wife  

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From the very beginning, Henry found himself involved in a somewhat incestuous scandal. A proxy marriage between his brother, Arthur, and Catherine of  Aragon, had fallen through upon Arthur’s unexpected death. With a much needed alliance between Spain and England relying on the marriage, Henry took his brother’s wife as his own. While Catherine swore the marriage was never consummated, King Henry would go on to have his doubts. In any case, the incestuous undertones of the marriage did require the Church’s approval, which the young King received. Unfortunately for him, the sin of incest would continue to leave doubts in the minds of his subjects.

King Henry and his new bride, Catherine of Aragon struggled to produce an heir. This more than anything is speculated to have caused Henry’s attentions to wander in an otherwise successful marriage. While it’s worth noting Henry took to bed one of his Queen’s maids of honor, Elizabeth Blount, their scandalous affair was not incestuous. Though, King Henry was quite loyal and devoted to Lady Blount. The two had a son, one Henry recognized. This however, might have been Blount’s undoing.

Shortly after recognizing the birth of Elizabeth Blount’s son, King Henry started another affair. The reason is unknown, though it would not take much to speculate. Perhaps the young Henry had no desire to bed his wife, while simultaneously being unable to bed his mistress. Whatever the reason, Blount disappeared into obscurity after the acknowledgment of her son, and made room for the infamous Mary Boleyn.

King Henry & His Mistress’s Sister

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While unintentional as it is scandalous, King Henry ended up sleeping with both Mary Boleyn and her sister, Anne Boleyn. The two sisters are said to have had little in common and separate personalities. At the same time, King Henry is rumored to have fathered yet another illegitimate son by Mary Boleyn. This child went unrecognized, though only by King Henry. Many who saw Mary’s son remarked on their similar appearance, thus spreading the rumor for history to record. Son or not, Henry’s familiarity with Mary Boleyn makes his marriage to her sister all the more depraved.

King Henry sought an annulment of his first marriage, thus legally making Catherine of Aragon his sister. The incestuous irony of that statement goes unnoticed by too many. To his credit, Henry did seem to care for his ‘sister’ well enough, not to mention their daughter. At the same time, Henry disposed of Mary Boleyn fairly rapidly without much thought. The woman was said to be far more beautiful than her sister, Anne Boleyn, but it was Anne that ended up becoming Henry’s second wife. The historical record seems to believe this is due to Anne’s ambition and intelligence, not necessarily her looks.

Interestingly enough, Mary Boleyn did attend the wedding of her sister, or at least accompanied her. Their strained relationship didn’t seem to suffer for this, and Anne even saw to the education of her sister’s ‘bastard’ child. When Mary Boleyn eloped with a man of little prospects and reputation however, the two parted ways. Anne Boleyn had her sister banished from court ending any progress the two may have shared. As sad as that may sound, Mary’s marriage seems worth the sacrifice. A union out of love was rare, as Anne Boleyn was soon about to discover.

King Henry & His Fifth Cousin

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As was common with Henry, his marriage to Anne Boleyn came to an abrupt end. It should be noted that many people to this day blame the King himself. Anne Boleyn’s demise is often seen as a political move on the part of others, and favorable to Henry. After giving birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and becoming pregnant again, Anne Boleyn knew she needed to give Henry a male heir. Whether under extreme pressure, or simply realizing the danger of her situation, Anne started meddling in Henry’s love life, specifically his habit of attaining mistresses.

Henry had indeed taken a mistress while Anne was pregnant, his fifth cousin, Jane Seymour. As ambitious as Anne Boleyn was, Jane Seymour was said to be just as sweet and gentle. The two women knew each other well enough, as Jane Seymour had served as maid of honor to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon. When Anne discovered the affair however, she miscarried days later. This event was her undoing. After her miscarriage, King Henry had very little interest in keeping Anne around. She was accused of high treason, adultery, and incest. Yes, the King accused Anne Boleyn of sleeping with her brother in order to get rid of her. The two, along with a few others, were quickly executed making way, ironically, for Jane Seymour, Henry’s fifth cousin.

To Jane’s credit, she quickly became Henry’s favorite wife. Ultimately, Henry would be buried beside her. Many people credit Henry’s favoritism of Jane to the fact she bore him a son, but this does not seem to be the case. Out of all Henry’s wives, Jane was the least political. While she favored Henry’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon, and repaired their relationship a great deal, Jane otherwise did not meddle in Henry’s political life. Another factor may be attributed to their short marriage, and Jane’s unexpected death. For better or worse, with the death of Jane in childbirth, Henry needed yet another wife.

King Henry & Another Sister

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The King’s ability to wed another seemed doomed from the very beginning. After Jane Seymour’s death, Henry was said to mourn quite devotedly for three years. In fact, it is during this grief that Henry’s iconic image would take shape. The King was no longer young, and his failure to take care of himself suddenly showed. Henry put on weight, suffered from diabetes, and ultimately developed gout. These aging features made the once handsome King quite a difficult lover. It’s not surprising then that Henry ended up with another ‘sister’ in a marital arrangement gone wrong.

Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, stands out more than most. Germanic in heritage, her beauty was not easy recognized by the King. Many Englishmen remarked on her beauty, though Henry failed to think so. From the beginning, Henry seemed opposed to the idea of Anne. He asked for unflattering portraits, was put off by her demeanor, and ultimately decided he simply did not like her. In a strange twist of fate, Henry seems to be honest in his dislike of an otherwise beautiful woman. Perhaps, his grief for Jane outweighed his need of a wife.

Still, Henry’s inability to consummate his marriage with Anne, quickly dissipated when introduced to the young Catherine Howard. Anne of Cleves ultimately agreed to an annulment, earning her the title of King’s Beloved Sister. In retrospect, this may have been quite fortunate for her, as she lived a long life. Outliving the King himself, Anne lived long enough to see Henry’s daughter Mary crowned Queen of England. Likewise, she also saw the end of many men and women that earned the King’s disfavor. Interestingly, the courtier who encouraged Henry’s marriage to Anne was executed on the day of Henry’s fifth wedding.

King Henry & His Wife’s Cousin

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The woman Henry married for his fifth wife was none other than Catherine Howard, first cousin to Anne Boleyn. One would think the King wise enough to avoid such a match, and yet, he wasn’t. Catherine Howard was a young woman full of life and instantly earned Henry’s attention. Those at court found Catherine just as beautiful and delightful as the King, and thus began the downfall of Henry’s fifth wife. With little digging into her past, Henry married the indiscreet and foolish girl already tarnished with scandalous tales of premarital affairs.

Catherine Howard received the lavish attentions of the middle-aged King. While the young Queen adorned himself in the finest jewels and French fashioned gowns, rumors started spreading. The previous indiscretions of the now Queen became the talk of court, and Henry found himself embarrassed. He must have felt something of love toward the young Catherine, and tried his best to ignore the rumors for a time. When Henry discovered the truth, the King even did his best to ignore the dire situation of his then wife. However, Catherine lacked the intelligence to keep herself alive.

With her indiscretion so well-known, Catherine should have claimed a prior marital contract with the other man. Doing so would have legally voided her marriage, but spared her life. Instead, Catherine tried to claim she was forced into the affair. While unwise, the plea may have worked. Catherine Howard however, had also engaged in an adulterous affair with a favored member of Henry’s court. Suddenly, her claims of force had little merit. The King’s fury could not be ignored, and Catherine Howard was ultimately beheaded. Ironic as it is, the only wives of Henry to be beheaded were related, as they were first cousins. While Anne Boleyn was more than likely innocent, Catherine Howard was not. Both were beheaded for adultery in any case.

Henry’s Final Wife & Her Incestuous Impropriety

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The final wife of King Henry was rather sensible. A widower, Catherine Parr had previously been married three times already. This gave her the uncanny ability to relate to Henry’s three children. Also, it’s worth nothing that Henry’s sixth wife was also his third, and fourth cousin once removed multiple times over. Interestingly enough, this is not the strangest incestuous thing about Catherine Parr and King Henry. Together, they share a mutual love interest of sorts, as both loved members of the Seymour family. Prior to marrying Henry, Catherine Parr sought the attention of Jane Seymour’s brother, Thomas Seymour.

When Henry died, Catherine reunited and ultimately married Thomas Seymour. To make matters all the more strange, Thomas was rumored to have an interest in Catherine’s now stepdaughter, the Princess Elizabeth. Ambitious and power hungry, Thomas sought to marry the young princess. Marrying Catherine instead, Thomas still had access to Elizabeth, essentially giving him the best of both worlds. Needless to say, things did not go well for either of the women involved. Things took a real turn for the worse however, when Catherine became pregnant.

Thomas’ affections for Elizabeth had always been seemingly harmless. The two were known to engage in ‘horseplay’, acts that often involved Catherine herself. Whether Elizabeth liked these invasive moments or not is unclear, though many agree she developed a crush on her stepfather. When Catherine became pregnant however, these moments became more threatening to both Catherine’s marriage and Elizabeth’s reputation. Upon discovering her stepdaughter and husband embraced and kissing, Catherine sent Elizabeth away. Lucky for her, this helped distance Elizabeth from the scandal that followed. Thomas’ ambition grew too much, and he was later accused of high treason and ultimately executed.

Conclusion

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The life of King Henry is riddled with incestuous sex. While many people are quick to dismiss these as historical accounts or traditions, this is not always the case. Today those interested few digging into Henry’s background are discovering more taboos than initially expected. As writers, it’s easy to forget that history often repeats itself. The immoral acts of one generation are not all that different than our own. So, before writing that next novel, why not consider what one can get away with? Behind all of Henry’s power, prestige and beautiful women was still a man, just a man with a lust for women that burned far too hotly.

 

 

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