By Enrique Rubio
Hever, UK, Feb 15 (EFE).- King Henry VIII’s first two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, were famed for being pitted against each other but their shared devotion to religion has reunited the historical figures 500 years on.
Both Catherine and Anne kept Books of Hours, illustrated manuscripts used as prayer books as well as personal diaries. Now, for the first time, these valuable items are both on display at Hever Castle, Anne’s former childhood home in southeast England.
The manuscripts date to 1527, a year in which Henry VII had already proposed to Anne and was pushing to annul his marriage to Catherine.
Historian Kate McCaffrey says both women shared a deep belief in the Christian faith, although one was a Catholic and the other was decisive in Henry VIII’s move to sever ties with the Vatican, paving the way for the creation of the Anglican Church.
“It’s a brilliant new kind of connection between the two women, and a really intriguing one. From a really intriguing time with so much change in the English court and in Catherine and Anne’s stories as well,” she tells Efe.
“So, to reunite and re-examine the women through a new lens and watch what they shared and what joined them together, as well as just looking at how they are rivals, I think it’s really important,” McCaffrey, assistant curator of the exhibition, adds.
For the historian, what makes Catherine and Anne’s lives so enigmatic is that they are “a brilliant example of human drama.”
“It’s got all the highs and lows of the soap operas that we love to watch today. These are real people. These are real women. I think they are really compelling stories,” she says.
Daughter of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, Catherine (1485-1536) married the heir to the British throne Arthur before his death five months later.
Eight years later, in 1509, she married his younger brother and successor, Henry VIII.
She was adored by her people until her death.
That, however, did not stop Henry VIII from breaking his ties with the Catholic Church so he could marry Anne, who had served as Catherine’s lady-in-waiting for five years.
McCaffrey thinks that Anne and her family would have been close to the then-queen and would not have initially seen her as a rival.
Anne was eventually executed in 1536 over dubious accusations of adultery and incest.
McCaffrey’s investigations using ultraviolet light has revealed that the Book of Hours owned by Anne was preserved for generations by her acolytes, despite the smear campaign launched by her husband.
“It’s quite revealing that Henry decided to give his wife the less decorated copy and his mistress the better one,” the expert adds.
Although Anne’s book went missing for many years, in 1910 American tycoon William Waldorf Astor snapped it up after buying Hever Castle.
Catherine’s manuscript was acquired at the beginning of the 20th century by another millionaire, John Pierpont Morgan, who kept it in his library in New York.. EFE