I went to great pains in my previous post, Less Henry, More George, to convince you the Hanoverians were at least as interesting (if not more interesting!) than the Tudors. Yet the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to see similarities between my two favourite periods.
As you may have seen from my Tweets, I’m deep in research for my next book, “A Forbidden Crown”, which revolves around Maria Fitzherbert and Caroline of Brunswick. I’m currently pouring over accounts of Caroline’s famous trial for adultery. In their political excesses, George’s enemies compared his behaviour throughout the whole with that of Henry VIII. My first response was to laugh at their exaggeration. But then I thought long and hard about the lives of these two monarchs… They have more in common than you might think!
Both started life as remarkably handsome young men. Just look at the pictures at the top of the post! Henry was renowned for his jousting ability, athletic good looks and success with the ladies. As for young George, he was dubbed “the first gentleman in Europe”. He had it all: wit, brains and wealth. Is it any wonder they both thought so highly of themselves?
Each, in their way, was a mother’s darling. Henry was perhaps spoilt more by his grandmother, but he retained a great fondness for his mum Elizabeth of York too throughout life. Historians argue about George’s relationship with his mother, Queen Charlotte. It was tempestuous at times, but all the evidence suggests that she doted on him. She might not have been brave enough to take his part with the King on all occasions, but she spoilt him when she could. And although George III and Queen Charlotte prescribed a “plain” upbringing for their children, it was only simple in comparison to previous monarchies. I’ve seen George IV’s baby clothes and toys and there’s nothing plain about them!
Considering this, it’s interesting to examine Henry and George’s first marriages. Both favoured an older woman, an almost maternal figure. They also chose brides who raised religious issues and were not approved of by their families. Catherine of Aragon was Henry’s widowed sister-in-law, so the marriage required a Papal dispensation. This match was looked on unfavourably by Henry’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. George also married a widow, Maria Fitzherbert, who was a Catholic in a Protestant country. Needless to say, his parents failed to endorse the match.
Both these remarkable women, Catherine and Maria, had the knack of keeping their boisterous husbands in check. It was when the Kings strayed from their safe, mothering first wives that life became rather more complicated for them…
We all know the story of how Henry fell head over heels for Anne Boleyn, tore the country apart for her, but ended up executing his once beloved wife. But few people realise the impact George’s marriage to Caroline, and his attempted divorce from her, had upon the country.
To marry Caroline, George had cast aside his first wife, Maria. But sources indicate the separation was mutual – or pushed more by Maria – so we must not see her as a Catherine of Aragon pining away. In fact, it was probably a lucky escape for Maria. If the marriage was proven, George could have been removed from the throne and Maria executed.
George’s choice of second bride had none of the romance of Henry and Anne – he had never met Caroline when he proposed to her. But all the same, he pursued the idea of marrying her with a frenzy that reminded me of the besotted Tudor. He redecorated apartments for her and imagined many perfections she did not have. He pushed for the marriage to happen sooner than it possibly could. And when he met her – well, the fallout was highly reminiscent of Henry with Anne of Cleves. George’s account of the wedding night echoes Henry’s criticisms of Anne – he points out her stench, her flabby body and suspects she is not a virgin.
Sadly, both Anne and Caroline were doomed to displease their husbands, and became loads that needed dumping. It is when I read the accounts of George’s desperation to get rid of Caroline that I think most of Henry. He was frantic, he did not eat, he did not sleep. He was obsessed with clearing his wife right out of his life. He wanted, more than anything, to try her for High Treason – the penalty being death.
It is possible Caroline committed adultery many times, but fortunately for her, the only instance with anything like proof occurred on the Continent. This lessened her offence and she could not be sentenced to death. As matters stood, the matrimonial fracas threatened to rip the country apart, with Caroline being used as a figurehead for radicals and the disenfranchised, so it would have been extremely unwise to execute her even if the law allowed it. But the main point that stands out to me is this: George would have executed a wife if he could. With less restraints on his power, could he have been another Henry?
The role of the monarchy had altered by the time George came to the throne – he couldn’t reek bloody revenge on the people who protested against him. He was thwarted by parliaments in both his public and private life. His temper tantrums were less terrifying than Henry’s because he had less power. Admittedly, George frequently burst into tears instead of bellowing, but this needs to be seen in the context of the era. It was fashionable for men to cry – it showed a superior sensibility. I always considered Henry a popular monarch and George an unpopular one, but I’m not sure this is fair. After all, there were the northern uprisings and the Pilgrimage of Grace. If the Tudor people had the same freedom of speech and press as the Georgians, would they have hissed at their King and gathered round his wronged Queens, like with Caroline? We will never know.
From love of women, we move onto love of food. These guys were big eaters. It’s common knowledge Henry was immensely fat in his old age, but did you know George was actually heavier than the Tudor monarch when he died? Both turned to food for comfort and refuge from their shattered love lives and ailing bodies. It makes me sad to see them, aged, as in the caricatures at the bottom of this post. Actually, the picture of George is not from old age – he took care that all the portraits of him, even in advanced years, were flattering – but it suggests what he would have looked like as an overweight dandy. It’s hard to believe, but even as old, fat men, both George and Henry were sexually incontinent. All their lives, they were vain men, believing themselves irresistible to the opposite sex. The truth was by old age, Henry had a rotting leg and George looked like a pantomime dame, but no one was going to tell them that. Certainly not their many mistresses.
As well as being connoisseurs of the palate, our Kings were great patrons of the arts. Henry was fond of music (possibly composing some songs of his own), he designed palaces and patronised Holbein. As for George – I literally cannot list his collections. No monarch has done more, in my opinion, for the royal collection or the national treasures. Sadly, it was all at the expense of the tax payer…
Of course there are great differences between Henry and George, in their characters as well as the tone of their reigns. All the same, I hope you have found it interesting and thought provking to see what their lives look like side by side. I like to think they would have been buddies. At least until Henry tried to have George beheaded for eating the last pie and he burst into tears 😉