Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain

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9780812979046: Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain

Spanning 500 years of British history, a revealing look at the secret lives of some great (and not-so-great) Britons, courtesy of one of the world’s most engaging royal historians
 
Beleaguered by scandal, betrayed by faithless spouses, bedeviled by ambitious children, the kings and queens of Great Britain have been many things, but they have never been dull. Some sacrificed everything for love, while others met a cruel fate at the edge of an axman’s blade. From the truth behind the supposed madness of King George to Queen Victoria’s surprisingly daring taste in sculpture, Behind the Palace Doors ventures beyond the rumors to tell the unvarnished history of Britain’s monarchs, highlighting the unique mix of tragedy, comedy, romance, heroism, and incompetence that has made the British throne a seat of such unparalleled fascination.
 
Featuring:
· stories covering every monarch, from randy Henry VIII to reserved Elizabeth II
· historical myths debunked and surprising “Did you know . . . ?” anecdotes
· four family trees spanning every royal house, from the Tudors to the Windsors

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Michael Farquhar, a former writer and editor at The Washington Post, is the bestselling author of numerous books, including the critically acclaimed Behind the Palace Doors and Secret Lives of the Tsars, as well as the popular Penguin "Treasury" series: A Treasury of Royal Scandals, A Treasury of Great American Scandals, A Treasury of Deception, A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans, and his latest title, Bad Days in History. He lives in Washington, D.C.            

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

1

Henry VIII (1509–1547): Up the Stairs, Pulled by an Engine

The King was now overgrown with corpulency and fatness.

—Edward Hall

By 1540, Henry VIII had discarded his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and beheaded his second, Anne Boleyn, on a false charge of adultery. He also married his third wife, Jane Seymour, who died right after giving Henry the son he had desired all along. Now—as the king grew monstrously obese—three more wives were in for the royal treatment.

Henry VIII was huge; a colossus who dominated not only his era but, as he grew heavier, his horse as well. The poor beast was on the losing end of the chunky king’s decision to don his plus-sized armor, saddle up, and lead his English forces into battle against France in 1544. “It was no longer a glorious young prince who was to lead his Englishmen toward Bou­logne,” wrote Antonia Fraser, “but an unwieldy invalid who had to be winched aboard his horse with his armour cut away from his swollen leg.”

Miserable as it must have been for the horse to have the obese monarch bouncing on top of it, so much worse it was for Henry’s teenaged queen, Catherine Howard, when she found herself in the same position. Henry was pushing fifty when he married for the fifth time, a bloated tyrant with badly ulcerated legs that left the once vigorously athletic monarch largely immobile and subject to savage bouts of temper.

“The King was now overgrown with corpulency and fatness,” reported the contemporary chronicler Edward Hall, “so that he became more and more unwieldy. He could not go up or down stairs unless he was raised up or let down by an engine.” (The Duke of Norfolk also noted that Henry “was let up and down by a device,” but there is no record of how the “engine” or “device” actually worked.)

Only his diminutive young queen seemed to make Henry happy. He called her his “blushing rose without a thorn” and couldn’t keep his fat paws off her. “The King’s affection was so marvelously set upon that gentlewoman,” wrote Thomas Cranmer’s secretary, Ralph Morice, “as it was never known that he had the like to any woman.”

Young Catherine had vowed at her wedding to be “bonair [yielding] and buxom in bed,” but that was no doubt difficult. King Henry was by this time so enormous that the Spanish chronicler reported “three of the biggest men that could be found could get inside his doublet.” Little wonder, then, that Catherine risked everything and took on a lover of more pleasing dimensions; a man who could make her happy. Unfortunately, it cost the young queen her head.

Henry’s fourth wife, Catherine’s predecessor Anne of Cleves, had been spared the fifth queen’s ordeals in bed because the king never deigned to sleep with her. “I like her not,” Henry sniffed after meeting the German bride selected for him by his minister, Thomas Cromwell. It was the only politically arranged union of the king’s long marital career, and after seeing Anne, he entered into this “unendurable bargain” with extreme reluctance. “My Lord,” the king said to Cromwell on the morning of his wedding, “if it were not to satisfy the world, and my Realm, I would not do that I must this day for none earthly thing.”

The king, who would be lusting after Catherine Howard later the same year, could not bear to consummate his marriage to Anne of Cleves. “I liked her before not well,” he said the morning after his wedding, “but now I like her much worse.” What had spared Anne the agony of Henry’s sexual advances? He claimed her breasts sagged.

Instead of having the grunting monster flopping on top of her, as Catherine Howard would later, Anne had a much easier time of it. “When he comes to bed,” she told her ladies, “he kisses me and taketh me by the hand, and biddeth me ‘good night sweetheart’ and in the morning, kisses me, and biddeth me ‘Farewell, darling.’”

Anne of Cleves had been so exceedingly sheltered growing up that she actually believed this was what married couples did in bed. Had she known better, she might have been more grateful to Catherine Howard—her former lady-in-waiting—for taking her hefty husband off her hands. Henry quickly divorced her. Fortunately for Anne, it was an amicable split and she lived comfortably for the rest of her life as the king’s “good sister.”

Three years after marrying Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard (both in 1540), Henry wed his sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, whose job it was to nurse and comfort the ailing king. She just barely managed to survive him. Katherine dared dispute with the king on religious matters—never a good idea—but wisely humbled herself before the headsman did.

Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547. He was fifty-five, with a waist that measured about the same. It would take sixteen exceptionally strong yeoman of the guard to lower his enormous coffin into the tomb beneath St. George’s Chapel at Windsor.

2

Edward VI (1547–1553): The Boy King

This whole realm’s most precious jewel.

—King Henry viii

Henry VIII was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Edward, the child upon whom the late king had placed all his hope for the future of the Tudor dynasty. Though the reign of Edward VI was brief—just six years—it was packed with intrigue.

The little boy of nine sat without squirming throughout the seemingly endless coronation ceremony. Though tender of age, he was proclaimed not only England’s sovereign but a divinely ordained savior, “a second Josiah”* who would see “idolatry destroyed, the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from [his] subjects, and images removed.” Heightening the display of power and majesty, the boy king—propped up on pillows—shimmered in full royal regalia. Upon his head was a gold crown, made especially for his small size, adorned with rubies, diamonds, emeralds, and pearls. Before him bowed all the great nobles of the land, there to pay homage to the son Henry VIII had longed for, and who now claimed his inheritance as Edward VI.

The ancient coronation ritual was believed to imbue the monarch with near mystical properties, but King Edward—God’s chosen—was still a child and incapable of ruling on his own. His brief, six-year reign would be marked by intrigue and treachery as those closest to the boy tried to gain control over him and rule England in his name. Two of the king’s uncles would lose their heads in various power struggles before Edward began to assert his own will, and, in the end, betray his own sisters.



Henry VIII was overjoyed when his third wife, Jane Seymour, delivered a baby boy on October 12, 1537. Two thousand rounds of ammunition were fired from the Tower of London in celebration, while church bells continuously pealed all across the city. For her tremendous reproductive success, Queen Jane became Henry’s “entirely beloved,” foremost among all his wives for giving him what he wanted most: a male heir to carry on the Tudor dynasty. The king had waited twenty-seven years for this momentous occasion, discarding two wives in the process and dissolving all ties to Rome. Given that, the death of Jane Seymour just two weeks after giving birth, while sad, was really of no consequence. It was the son who mattered, the child Henry declared to be “this whole realm’s most precious jewel.”

“There is no less rejoicing in these parts from the birth of our Prince, whom we hungered for for so long, than there was, I trow, at the birth of St. John the Baptist,” Bishop Hugh Latimer wrote from Worcester. “God give us grace to be thankful.”

The king became obsessed with Edward’s health and safety and issued an exacting set of instructions for the care of his miraculous offspring. The prince was to be watched constantly, his food and clothing thoroughly tested. Doctors swarmed around the child, monitoring every nuance of his health, while access was strictly limited for fear of infection. Loitering anywhere near the palace was prohibited. “If any beggar shall presume to draw near the gates,” Henry warned, “then they be appointed to be grievously punished to the example of others.”

Despite the fastidious environment in which he was raised, Edward seems to have had a happy and robust early childhood. “My Lord Prince’s grace is in good health and merry,” reported Lady Byron, the head of Edward’s household. “His grace danced and played so wantonly that he could not stand still, and was as full of pretty toys as ever I saw in my life.”

Edward had a carefully selected group of playmates that included his close friend and confidant Barnaby Fitzpatrick and a girl named Jane Dormer, with whom the prince seemed quite taken. “My Jane,” he called her. “His inclination and natural disposition was of great towardness to all virtuous parts and princely qualities,” Jane later wrote, “a marvelous sweet child, of very mild and generous condition.”

The future king had a close relationship with his half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth—daughters of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively—as well as with his father’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, whom he called his “most dear mother.” It was Queen Katherine who brought all of Henry VIII’s children closer to him, and who encouraged Edward in his studies. The curriculum was extremely rigorous and included, as Edward wrote, “learning of tongues, of the Scriptures, of philosophy and the liberal sciences.”

The prince excelled in ...

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