Thursday, September 3, 2015

Today's Henry: Percy - 6th Earl of Northumberland, Also-Ran for Anne Boleyn

Henry Percy was born in 1502 - and - SCORE!
He was the first-born son; inherited title, properties and all the important stuff - all would be his when his father died.
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Henry Percy is probably most famous for being the 'also-ran' for the hand in marriage of Anne Boleyn.
His "definitely our kind, dear" family contracted him in marriage to the daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury, Mary Talbot, in 1516.
By today's standards, that would mean as a freshman in high school, his father had decided for him who he would take to the Prom marry. 
Perhaps some of the sting of that level of Dad-control was taken away when Henry was knighted in 1919. 
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It was common in Tudor times to place your (socially superior) kid in the household of someone (also socially superior) who would teach him or her the ways of the world, and Henry Percy's parents were no exception.
Henry was placed at a 'young age' in the household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who, at that time, was at the height of his powers; pretty much running the country while Henry VIII hunted and jousted and stuck his hand up the skirt of any girl at court he wanted. 

As page to Cardinal Wolsey, Henry Percy got the chance to travel a little; to leave behind the far-north confines of his family home.
And far north it was; Northumberland - even the name says 'north.'
When Cardinal Wolsey visited Henry VIII's court, Henry Percy hung around the entry to the queen's chamber girl-watching.
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"Wow, Toto. This place is in color! And there's royalty!" 
He definitely wasn't in Northumberland any more. 

After awhile, word got around that young Henry Percy lit up like a Christmas tree whenever he spoke with a certain Anne Boleyn.
And this wasn't idle rumor.
The person who noted Henry Percy's interest in Anne Boleyn was Cardinal Wolsey's very own 'gentleman usher,' who went on to write an entire book on the life of Wolsey - someone who was actually there, with the all-access neck tag, 
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the guy who could get thisclose to the action at court.

Given Anne Boleyn's family ambition, and also given the personality of Henry Percy, which is best described as difficult, it was no surprise to anyone who's ever thought of Anne Boleyn as a gold digger to feel validated.
After all, Henry Percy had all that lovely property, all that lovely family title/money/prestige - and while the Boleyn family wasn't exactly elevated white trash, they were nowhere near as 'our kind, dear' as the Percy family.Image result for not our kind, dear
In 1523 Anne Boleyn told Henry Percy 'if you like it, then you better put a ring on it.'
Henry Percy: "Wait right there for one second while I go grab a ring."
And as he dashed off, filled with adoration for the undeniably lovely and beguiling Anne Boleyn, he ran into Cardinal Wolsey and with that, Henry Percy learned the full meaning of the words 'public dressing down.'

Wolsey, likely guided by Henry VIII's recent interest in Anne Boleyn, told off Henry Percy with all the scoffing, scorching, belittling shame-inspiring nastiness of an experienced and also very arrogant older man.
It happened in front of all of Wolsey's people.

Witnesses. 
Ugh.

As tellings-off go, that one had to be cringe-worthy.
Cardinal Wolsey was hyper-aware of the differences of classes of people in Tudor England and he made a special effort to remind Henry Percy of the Percy family obligations to their king, to their church and especially to Mary Talbot, whom Henry Percy seemed to have momentarily forgotten. 

Henry Percy went spinning into a shame spiral right then and there.
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Oh, sure, he tried defending Anne Boleyn's good (but not good enough) family and his right to choose who he married; Wolsey would have none of it.
Henry Percy cried. 
Yes, he cried.
If he'd known that was only the opening shot in a volley of his father, Wolsey, and the king himself telling him what a willful, irresponsible piece of shit he was, he might have cried harder.
All three men did just that - and in front of witnesses, although the king's shaming was done through Wolsey and dear old dad; the king himself didn't really do such things.
He had people do them for him.

Henry caved, he married Mary Talbot in 1524 and acted like such a prick to her that by 1530 they were no longer living together.
Was Henry taking out his frustration on his wife, or were the two actually incompatible?

In 1527 Henry Percy's father died, and Henry Percy became the 6th earl of Northumberland, with all those lovely properties and status. (First-born son, remember?)
By 1532, Mary Talbot Percy had had enough.
She claimed her husband cruelly neglected her, Henry Percy claimed it was because his heart wasn't hers, she answered, "It's that Boleyn bitch, isn't it? ISN'T IT?!?!?" 
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And Henry Percy replied, "Yup. She and I were supposed to get married, we were engaged til Wolsey busted us up, and that's why I'm never happy and p.s. YOU SUCK." 

So - it was on the record that Henry Percy and Anne Boleyn had an engagement of sorts.
Anne Boleyn, who had landed a much, much bigger fish than little Henry Percy, most certainly did not want that news made public.
Little indiscretions like a prior engagement could easily queer the deal she had going - the biggest prize himself, Henry VIII.
So, after hearing via the grapevine that Henry Percy claimed to have been engaged to her, Anne Boleyn went straight to Henry VIII and told him to investigate it.

Henry Percy suddenly recalled that he and Anne Boleyn had never, ever, ever been in talks to get married. 
Nope, not ever.
Never even hinted at it. 
Sux 2 b u, Henry Percy. 
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It was about to get a lot suckier.

In 1536, Anne Boleyn had not given Henry VIII a living son, her smart mouth and 'not our kind, dear' indiscretion got her called out by everyone at court who didn't like her, her family, or their unbelievable cheek at having bewitched the king to the point of elevating the white trash Boleyns to nobility. 
For Anne Boleyn, it was very, very, very bad indeed.
For Henry Percy, who had to watch the entire drama unfold in front of him and, even worse, had to serve on her jury and declare her guilty, the horror must have been all-engulfing.

Once the jury on Anne's trial had each "so saith me" convicted her, Anne Boleyn knew it was game over, and there was no point in defending herself.
She asked to be excused in order to pray, put her accounts in order pre-execution, then she picked up her skirts and her dignity and vanished like smoke from the courtroom.
Henry Percy collapsed.
Couldn't even walk out of the courtroom on his own; he had to be hauled out. 
Not only did he not get to marry the girl, he had to watch her marry another who grew tired of her and had her head sliced off. 

The last, sick (and not in a good way) twist to the Henry Percy-Anne Boleyn story is this: before she was executed, there were certain legalities to tend to, and one of them involved dragging up that engagement story - again.
Like the ulcerated stinking sore on Henry VIII's leg, the story wouldn't go away.
Henry Percy again denied being engaged to Anne Boleyn, someone else supplied the legality needed to go ahead with her execution, and after it was over, Henry Percy was a broken man. Image result for broken heart man

In 1537, not speaking to most of his family, he changed his will to make sure his two brothers got squat, and then, not feeling too well, laid down and died. 
Henry Percy appears to have been a bad-tempered, vengeful crybaby.
Why Anne Boleyn found him so attractive in 1523 is a mystery; she was funny, quick and ambitious; Henry Percy seems to have been fairly unpleasant and a holder of grudges. Maybe that was due to love denied, but just maybe Henry Percy was a difficult guy for his entire life.


The answer to the mystery may be an unpopular idea, but I believe it may be valid - that Henry Percy was a big enough fish that Anne Boleyn would have married him.
When a bigger fish came along and rumors about the previous, smaller fish surfaced, she was quick to throw her relationship with Henry Percy right over the waterfall, denying it and forcing him to deny it, too. 
Lesson learned.
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