During the long weeks of Lockdown, I often walked the footpaths that run through the deer park and woods surrounding Fountains Abbey. The abbey itself was closed to visitors but being a local, I know where the public footpaths are and am still able to get quite near to it. Without the crowds, the valley of the river Skell, in which the ruins lie, are a haven of peace and tranqulity – I frequently walked for a couple of hours without meeting another soul – there were the deer of course. Each time I walked close to the lonely ruins, I was forcibly struck by the atmosphere of forlorn, melancholy that seemed to hang over them – this got me thinking …and remembering…this ravaged structure was once a gloriously beautiful testament of Medieval Society’s faith in God and its belief in a perfect, everlasting life that existed beyond death. Like most of its kind, Fountains Abbey fell victim to, and was destroyed by Henry VIII’s policy of suppressing England’s monasteries. His pretext being – that they were corrupt, and no longer served the people. The reality was rather different. Yes…there were elements of corruption but throughout the ages this had always been the case. The majority still served God honestly and provided spiritual guidance, succour and shelter to the needy. The fact was, that Henry was broke. He’d emptied the overflowing coffers of the royal treasury his frugal father, Henry VII, left him, in his endeavours to outshine the other European monarchies (chiefly the French) and by trying to make his Court the most magnificent in Europe. He had a dire need to replenish his finances. The lands and wealth of the Abbeys were just too much of a temptation, one that he was ultimately unable to resist. In addition Henry was seeking an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon on the grounds that he was living in sin and against God’s Law (despite having received the Pope’s permission of a Papal Bull) for marrying his dead brother Arthur’s wife. He used the absence of a male heir and his knowledge of the Bible: ‘if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an impurity; he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless,’ (Leviticus Ch.20 v.16) to state his case, which he was convinced was infallible. Again, the truth is slightly different – he was in fact hopelessly infatuated with Anne Boleyn – who refused to become his mistress so poor Catherine had to be got rid of – although he also desperately wanted a male heir. The annulment was refused. A wrathful Henry broke with the Church of Rome and made himself head of the Protestant Church of England – here was his opportunity to kill two birds with one stone – he could achieve his divorce and suppress the monasteries to seize their assests. I find it rather ironical that having had the title ‘Defender of the Faith,’ bestowed upon him by the Pope in 1521, for his attack on the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, Henry used the Protestants to achieve his ambitions. An act of enormous hypocrisy…and so his descent into tyranny began.
However, what most of us tend to forget is that Henry VIII was not always the monstrous, murderous monarch that many of us immediately think of when his his name is mentioned. For the first twenty years of his reign, with the wise and skillfully diplomatic Catherine to restrain his extravagances and lust for glory, he ruled his country reasonably well and relatively justly – the people of England were content with their handsome, athletic – if rather promiscuous king (perfectly normal behaviour for a monarch and most aristocratic men in the 16th century) and his very pretty queen.
And so I thought you might like to meet a younger, more diffident Henry VIII and his bride Catherine, in a story I entered for a competition – which to my delight – I won. Here’s a short excerpt as a taster:
“Play-on!” The imperious command was given by a golden-haired giant to the musicians in the gallery above his head. “Play a Pavane in honour of our queen.” Henry Tudor swung on his heel and strode down the length of the Great Hall leaving the young woman, whom he had been partnering in a country dance, to stand alone in the middle of the massive chamber. He halted abruptly in front of an arched doorway, through which the dainty figure of Queen Catherine had just made her entrance, followed by her ladies-in-waiting. She placed a slender, white hand into his outstretched palm and curtsied deeply. Raising eyes of a startling blue to look into her husband’s handsome face, Catherine smiled radiantly at him.
“Sire, I am honoured that you would dance the stately dance of the country of my birth, when I know you favour the faster steps and twirls of the Italian dances.” Henry’s narrow lips pursed and his small hooded eyes, of a much paler blue than those of his wife, ran speculatively over her small frame…”
You can read the complete story ‘A Hint of History’ here on my website – under ‘My Writing,’ in the Stories and Poems section.
This story and several more of my stories and poems, can also be found in a lovely anthology put together by The Scriveners – a group of writers to which I belong. ‘A Chorus of Seven.’ is available online as an ebook and paperback with Amazon, Ingramsparks, Barnes & Noble and other Online retailers. Check it out – you’ll see that I don’t just write historical stuff – and you’ll also be able to enjoy reading the work of six other very talented authors.