Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.
Sir Thomas Wyatt
Lea8 is home to the stunning Love, Henry, an installation that celebrates one of the most consequential love affairs of history, that between Henry VII and Anne Boleyn. But Henry was not the first man to fall in love with Anne. Before him was Harry Percy and Sir Thomas Wyatt who wrote that poem about her after he had been warned off. He went off to Italy for a while, though he came back in time to be caught up in the contrived ruse to eliminate Anne to make way for the third wife who finally gave Henry the son he so desperately needed.
Henry and Anne are a popular subject because love matches are rare in royal history and their story is so very rich with passion and drama. However, their story is also important because the world would be very different if Henry had not fallen so desperately in love with Anne. This led to his rupture with the Catholic Church and with Spain. It’s possible without passion urging him forward, he would have waited for Catherine, who was not well, to die before seeking a new, young and fertile wife. Spain did not have Salic law and he may have looked to their example and pushed for a change in English law so Mary could inherit. He definitely would have married her off before menopause so she would have been able to have children. Henry would never have raided the wealth of the church and England would never have had the funds to build its great navy.
While it is possible Mary could have married her cousin James V and united Scotland and England, I doubt Henry would want a son-in-law in waiting on his northern border. It is too bad, we could have been spared Mary Queen of Scots and the countless books making a heroine of a relentlessly stupid woman. It is more likely Mary would have married her Spanish cousin Charles V (father of her eventual husband) and, if Henry had no son, he would have ruled when Mary took the throne. Without the war with Spain, the British would not have defeated the Spanish at sea and both North and South America would have been Spanish colonies. England would have remained a Catholic country and there would never have been a Glorious Revolution to rid her of a Catholic king which means John Locke may have never written his treatises on government that were the foundation for the American, French, Vietnamese and many other revolutions
Protestantism might have still spread throughout Europe, though, and brought with it The Enlightenment and democracy, but it would have been slower and later and it is possible it would have been suppressed far, far longer. Religious wars and persecutions probably would have continued even beyond the 40 Years War because Spain, and with it, the Holy Roman Empire, would have not lost so much power and money to England and would have had more resources to wage war against Protestantism. The British might never have become a worldwide Empire without its great navy, the direct result of its war with Spain when the Spanish King tried to overthrown Anne and Henry’s daughter Elizabeth. Since Spain’s method of colonization was very different from England’s model, the entire world would be vastly different.
So yes, the story of Henry and Anne is the story of a great love and a great tragedy, but it is also one of those point in history where everything rests on a single act such as Wolsey blocking Anne’s marriage to Harry Percy.
While Henry is the prime mover in this drama, he can never be the star. His character is too steeped in malice and murder. He was a psychopath and an autocrat. He imagined himself as the romantic lead, but in the end, revealed himself again and again as a thug. Anne, though, Anne was something else. A woman whom all these great men ordered about, but who stood her ground, demanding respect and agency. And in so doing, changed the world beyond measure.
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Location: Love, Henry