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The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Court and Custom

This is a guide to the six wives of King Henry VIII of England and is created for those in the Medieval and Renaissance Studies (MERS) minor at Brandeis University. It follows the learning objectives of the minor.

Court and Custom in the English Court

Henry VIII's Greeting of Anne of Cleves and Early Modern Court Protocol by Retha M. Warnicke

This article describes the courtly love ritual meeting that Henry VIII undertook when he first met his fourth wife-to-be Anne of Cleves. The author begins by providing some context for why Henry felt he had to marry Anne of Cleves (to produce another male heir) and some background on Anne of Cleve's upbringing in the conservative Catholic Holy Roman duchy of Cleves. Henry VIII, often considered a romantic man by those close to him, was a fan of chivalric courting rituals. The meeting of a woman by a stranger in mask (her betrothed in disguise) was meant to show the love the two had for one another. The betrothed woman was supposed to recognize her intended despite his mask and become taken by him. Henry VIII planned this type of first meeting for Anne of Cleves and when presented with this, Anne did not understand this English custom and recoiled. She was surprised that this middle aged man (as Henry was then) was making overtures to her in such a brash way and did not realize that he was the king in disguise or that she was supposed to know it was him. Warnicke spends more of the article by comparing this act to other courtly love rituals at other courts across Europe from before and shortly after this time. Although the focus is on the king, it's important to note that the failure of this, to Anne, esoteric courting ritual was a large part of why their marriage was never consummated and was annulled.

The Function of Ceremonial in the Reign of Henry VIII by Jennifer Loach

The author argues that the function of ceremony and court pageantry was to make England more impressive on the world stage and to impress upon nobles the splendor of the country. Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII's early marriage was often about this. One notable tourney when they were first married cemented their love to the public when Henry gave Catherine his favor before a joust. Loach also discusses the symbolism present in the pomp and circumstance of Henry's coronation and his wedding to Catherine of Aragon. The king in his waning years did not partake in the sport although his younger queens, particularly Catherine Howard, were noted to be fond ot it. Loach concludes with a discussion of the symbolism and ceremony present during Henry VIII's funeral, where his two surviving consorts (Catherine of Aragon his widow and Anne of Cleves his annulled wife and "sister") and three surviving children were present.