The Richard Burton and Liz Taylor of Tudor Times

It’s interesting how real life is nearly always much more fascinating than anything today’s soap opera writers could come up with, some of the events that happened in Tudor England defies belief. I’m reading The Pocket Guide To Royal Scandals  (or is it The Pocket Guide To Royal Sandals?) and that explains the previous post and this one too. A large part of the book is taken up with Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth and when you delve into their stories you can understand why the BBC and Hollywood have made so many more films about them than any other monarch.

Henry VIII of course married only six times where-as Elizabeth Taylor married eight times (twice to Richard Burton) but it’s interesting how the Catholic church influenced both couples, when Liz started having an affair with Richard Burton they were still both married to someone else (Eddie Fisher and Sybil Williams) and the Vatican condemned Burton and Taylor’s affair as “erotic vagrancy”.  A totally excellent turn of phrase. The Vatican influenced Henry VIII marriages to such a degree that it contributed strongly to the Great Reformation and England breaking away from the Catholic Church.

The first act in this soap opera, the prologue, the pilot episode, happened when Henry VIII was ten years old. We all know that Henry’s first wife was Catherine of Aragon but this was not her first marriage, you see, she had been married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and next in line to the throne but four months after marriage in 1502 he kicked the bucket. Fast forward seven years and Henry has the hots for Catherine, his dead brothers wife but there was the small issue of the teachings of Leviticus;

Leviticus 18:16

“Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness.”

Leviticus 20:21

“If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing…they shall be childless.”

It became known as “The King’s Great Matter”, would Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon be contrary to the teachings of Leviticus? Catherine maintained that because of Arthur’s poor health during their brief marriage that the marriage was never consummated and therefore invalid and she was free to marry. I suspect the jury may be out on that one..

It would make an interesting soap-opera sub-plot, girl finds boy whom most likely will be King of England, marries him, the silly plonker dies after four months so what’s a girl to do but find another man who’s probably going to be King too, I’m sure the Tudor version of Hello magazine sold lots of copies following that little story.

Henry sought advice from the Vatican and obtained a Papal dispensation to marry Catherine. Getting Papal dispensations was a costly business, basically it was a nice little money maker for the Vatican. You see, the lines in the bible were there to stop interbreeding but of course every Royal House in Europe interbreed, everyone was related to everyone else, this was how they built alliances and stopped wars but the crafty accountants at the Vatican realised that and therefore if some King wanted to marry some woman from another country then the chances of them being a close relative was startling high and required a Papal Dispensation to allow the marriage. Of course these Papal (Paypal?) Dispensations cost a Kings ransom but who’s better placed to pay a Kings ransom but the Kings and Queens of Europe. Basically, the Vatican was laughing all the way to the bank.

However, fast forward 18 years to 1526 and Catherine had produced only one child that survived past infancy, a girl, known colloquially as Bloody Mary.  Wanting a male heir to the throne and believing Catherine to be past prime child-bearing years, Henry had his eye on Anne Boleyn.  Henry told Catherine in 1527 that he believed their marriage had been unlawful.  He instructed Cardinal Wolsey to begin efforts to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine that would allow him to marry Anne Boleyn. So one minute he wants the Vatican to bless his marriage and the next he’s asking the Vatican to annul it…go figure. The Vatican wasn’t having any of it and absolutely refused to give an annulment, so Henry separated from Catherine (and then the Catholic Church), made himself head of the Church of England, got Wolsey to declare the marriage null and void and married Anne Boleyn.

Anne produced Elizabeth and to show his gratitude, three years later Henry had Anne beheaded in the Tower of London and within 24 hours he married the third of his six wives. If a script writer approached Hollywood with a storyline like that then he would have had it throw back in his face as being far too ridiculous and yet this was only the beginning of a six season series to be closely followed by a spin-off called Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen..  The lives and loves of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were fascinating but compared to the Tudors, they were strictly amateurs.