Friday, 21 August 2015

The search for Henry VIII's sixth wife

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King Henry VIII, 1542

In February 1542, even before the death of Queen Katherine Howard on the 13th of that month, it appears that King Henry VIII was already looking for a sixth wife, and the rest of the court were also speculating who the lucky lady would be. The ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Eustace Chapuys, was among those trying to guess where the king's eyes would rest next. 

The lady for whom he showed the greatest regard was the sister of lord Cobham, whom Wyatt sometime ago repudiated for adultery. She is a pretty young creature, with wit enough to do as badly as the others if she were to try. The King is also said to have a fancy for the daughter of Madame Albart, niece, of the Grand Esquire, Master Anthony Brown, and also for a daughter (by her first marriage) of the wife of Mons. Lyt, late deputy of Calais—a surmise which rests partly on the fact that after nearly two years' close confinement in the Tower, her father has been liberated, and the King has ordered his arms, which had been removed from their place in the chapel of the Order, to be replaced. - Chapuys to Charles V, 9th February 1542

'Madame Albart' = Lucy Somerset, Lady Herbert (1524-83). Lucy was the daughter of Henry Somerset and Elizabeth Browne, and came to court to serve as Maid of Honour to Queen Katherine Howard. In 1545 she married John Neville (1520-77) who was a stepson of Queen Katheryn Parr, whom she then served as Maid of Honour. Lucy and John Neville had four daughters.

'Sister of Lord Cobham' = Elizabeth Brooke (1503-60). She was married to Thomas Wyatt (d. 11 October 1542) in 1520 but they had long been separated. They separated in 1526 and he supported her financially until 1537. At which time she then moved in with her brother. They separated due to adultery, which Wyatt said was on Elizabeth's side. She remarried after her husband's death to Edward Warner (1511-65). Elizabeth had a son, Thomas (1521-54), with her first husband. and then had three more children with her second husband; Edward, Thomas and Henry. At the time the letter was written, Elizabeth was still legally married to Thomas. It has been suggested that the Elizabeth Brooke that Chapuys refers to in the letter is in fact this Elizabeth's niece of the same name born in 1526 - putting her in the same age range as the other two women mentioned. However, as Chapuys knew her marital history and therefore this younger Elizabeth would seem too young at only sixteen to have been married to Wyatt and separated for a long period of time, it seems unlikely that he would make that mistake. 

'Daughter of the wife of Lord Lisle' = Anne Bassett (1521-58). Anne had been in royal service since 1533, as part of Queen Anne Boleyn's household. She did not marry until 1554 to Walter Hungerford. She was rumoured to be Henry's mistress in 1538-9, despite being related to the king by marriage as her stepfather was King Henry's uncle. Anne had also been considered a possible wife by many to become the king's fourth wife in 1540.

The day after the execution of Katherine Howard, the king held a banquet for many men and women and he was said to favour Elizabeth Brooke and Anne Bassett the most.

However, as we know King Henry did not marry any of these three women. On the 12th July 1543 he married Katherine Parr. Katherine had joined Princess Mary's household by the 16th of February that year, her second husband having recently died. 

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