Afterlife at Hampton Court
Henry Tudor sat in his favorite corner in Hampton Court, the one where you could see the fields so clearly on an early spring day. He’d seen nearly 500 years worth of them.
"I missed so many while I was living," he mused to himself. The sun was just beginning to set, and Henry’s ‘’penance’’ for having been a less than stellar husband, was about to begin. Every night since 1547 he sat alone with his wives, discussing anything and everything. He didn’t really want to; in fact they didn’t really want to. However, the powers that be decided this was the best way for Henry to make up for what he had done in life. Every night, sunset to sunrise, Henry, Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Catherine, and Catherine would talk it out. Sometimes it could be about perfectly harmless things, such as the weather, or the amounts of strangers wandering in and about Hampton Court. But usually it turned into a lively discussion between the wives, or worse, the wives and Henry. To Henry’s dismay, death had caused the ladies to lose their subservience and obedience towards him, and their thoughts and words towards Henry had been less than kind. Even sweet little Jane Seymour had once made a joke about his weight, much to the delight of Catherine Howard. Silly women.
It hadn’t been so bad in the beginning; there were only four wives to handle then. Catherine and Anne usually sat across the room from each other exchanging menacing looks, while Jane sat by Henry and Kathryn Howard played cards with Anne. Henry could amuse himself with his astronomy books, with usually only the slightest remark from the women.
Once Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr joined however, the entire dynamic changed. Henry was forced to deal with 3 groups of 2 women, each woman still very sore at what she had undergone at the hands of Henry. As night fell the group assembled as Henry tried to concentrate on something other than wives. He wandered about, wondering where that bookshelf had gone, the one that had once been in the corner. It was only with a gentle nudge from Catherine of Aragon that he remembered it had been taken away in 1645.
“Take a man’s books away, its preposterous’’ Henry thundered.
“It’s not preposterous Henry things such as those are for the living”. Even in death Catherine of Aragon had retained her simple honesty. Henry sometimes almost felt as if she forgave him, but she had never said it, and whenever the subject of their daughter Mary and her disastrous reign came up, Henry was once again certain that she hadn’t.
“I never spent more than one second of my life reading than I had to, and I do not regret a thing about that” chimed in Catherine Howard.
“Perhaps if you had dear, you would have realized that if you had admitted to being engaged before you married the king, he would have had no grounds for your execution” Catherine Parr calmly added, a slight trace of superiority in her voice.
Catherine Howard looked towards Henry, but he once again avoided her glance. If he felt guilty about anything, it was about Catherine Howard. Although he was certain during life and even for a while after death that the execution was justified, it was one day in 1705 that he began to see things differently. Henry and Anne of Cleves had been having a discussion about the different decades of a person’s life. Henry felt that he hadn’t felt comfortable with his position in life, his kingdom, and his philosophy until he was about 30 years old. Anne of Cleves had agreed and as the others began to join the discussion, Catherine Howard began to weep, fading in and out, a sign that she was about to make her run down the corridors of Hampton Court, where she’d begged Henry so long ago to spare her life. Catherine had only lived to be twenty and Henry had to finally admit, he was entirely responsible for that.
The safe subject of books continued to be discussed by the group. That is, any subject was a safe one to discuss until Anne Boleyn decided to join the conversation.
“Tis a shame that Shakespeare was not around in our time. What a marvelous writer. But then again I suppose if it hadn’t been for my Elizabeth, no one would have ever heard of him”.
Anne was unable to ever resist showing her pride for Elizabeth. The worthless baby girl had turned out to be one of the greatest rulers of England, a name that had been remembered, and would never be forgotten.
“I would say Henry, that if it weren’t for the six of us, and Elizabeth, no one would remember you today”. Anne ventured just as carefully when she spoke to Henry as she had in life, that is to say, not at all. Henry refused to play this game again with her. Once in 1899 he had made a cruel remark about one of Anne’s moles and Anne retaliated by throwing one of his favorite books by Plato out the window, which was quickly snatched up by a tourist. She also refused to speak to him throughout much of the 1840s and he never really understood why.
“I’m quite certain you are wrong Mistress Boleyn, that Henry would be remembered quite well today as the man who broke England away from the Holy Church in Rome” Catherine of Aragon replied with a face like thunder. “That is a quite memorable event”.
When Catherine of Aragon spoke the others would listen, even Anne, although she could never resist replying with a quick comment.
“Perhaps you are right, Princess, but would that have been enough drama for all the playwrights and authors in the world to have written as many stories about Henry and you and I as they have? I think not. Without us ladies, Henry would be nothing.”
“Excellent, ladies, excellent. It seems to me quite obvious how quickly all of you forget that without me, no one alive today would know any of your names”! Henry finally broke in as he vigorously defended himself.
“Oh what an honor Henry, to be remembered as the headless wife of a fat man”! Anne Boleyn thundered with a half serious laugh.
Quiet Jane Seymour finally spoke up.
“No, I believe Henry is quite right ladies. I am certain no one today would know my name if it were not for Henry. Perhaps if my Edward had lived it would have been different, but our Lord had other plans. We must remember that, although it is Henry that lead all of us to our fates, it is Henry that binds us together for all time”. Jane exchanged a gentle smile with Henry, who exchanged one back and with Anne of Cleves.
Catherine Parr returned suddenly into the room, back from the few hours she spent at Sudeley Castle ever night. “I believe I just badly scared a watchman, I feel horrid when I do. Then again, how can it be helped?”
“I know what you mean Catherine”, Anne of Cleves replied, “but some seem to always know when you’re there, even if they can’t see you, you must learn not to feel badly about it”.
Henry was relieved that with the arrival of Catherine Parr the subject had finally turned away from him. He used this opportunity to go away from the group, to wander the halls of Hampton Court.
“What of them all”? he thought to himself. “Certainly things were never perfect with any of them, but they all had good lives, I made them queens!!"
Henry had spent centuries trying to figure it out, but he could not get past this one thought in his head.“If not for me…..”
“It was more than that we wanted Henry”. Catherine of Aragon had read his thoughts and come to him. “We wanted love, security, a husband but above all dear heart, I wanted you”.
Henry turned towards Catherine, a woman who even in life he realized, had suffered much at the his hands. Not just the loss of children but a horrid divorce.
“What of it Catherine, it had to be done. Did you ever think woman, what if, just what if, you had been a little more reasonable, that I would have been much more merciful to you and Mary”?
“Henry, I was your wife. Was I to lie to the world and say I was not?”
“I needed an heir”.
“You had one”.
“Elizabeth was but a daughter.”
Henry paused. Elizabeth had done all that a male heir was supposed to do… in fact she had done more.
“I cannot stand here, Catherine, and admit it was all for nothing”.
“You do not have to, my Henry, we are all past that. We have been for centuries. What we need from you is compassion”.
“For how your lives turned out”?
Catherine gave a calming nod.
“We can try to forget the past, yes we can try,” Henry straightforwardly replied.
Catherine saw a glimpse of the man she had married on that long ago June day.
"Worry not... we have forever."