The Six Wives of Henry VIII

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Gerald Fitzspringer interviewing Cistercian Friars circa 1538.

Between 1533 and 1547 England was gripped by “Divorce or Decapitate” an early television programme in which Tudor gentlemen discussed their marital problems with host Gerald Fitzspringer. At the end of each five minute segment of the show viewers texted in their votes to decide whether the subject of the programme should appeal to the Pope for an annulment, or follow the traditional path of condemning their wife as a witch and having her executed.

His standing with the public flagging as the wars with France dragged on King Henry Arthur Richard Tudor, by the grace of God King of England, France and Lord of Ireland, was convinced to make a guest appearance. In three riveting episodes Henry VIII opened his heart to the watching British people making "Divorce or Decapitate" a pivotal programme and cementing a new medium into the lives of late-Medieval people unused to seeing their monarch at all. Recordings of these programmes are rare and of poor quality due to technical difficulties with video-parchment. However, The History Channel is proud to present these edited transcripts for your education and enjoyment. Sit back, relax and delve into the mind of one of History’s most colourful characters.

Episode 1 - 1533

Gerald Fitzspringer: Hello and welcome to the first Royal episode of “Divorce or Decapitate”. Tonight you’ll be hearing from one of the most powerful men in the world so please give a warm welcome to your sovereign and mine, Bluff King Hal!

Audience applauds.

It was Henry VIII appearances on TV that drove sales of wide-screen televisions in sixteenth century England.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Welcome, Your Majesty, and may I say that those are very fetching tights you’re wearing.

Henry: Thank you, Gerry. I usually keep them for the weekends but this is a special occasion, after all.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Yes, you’re a TV virgin of course, but in matters of the heart you’ve always been a bit of a lad. Isn’t that right, sir?

Henry: Well, I’ve always done well with the ladies, if that’s what you mean.

Gerald Fitzspringer: I do indeed, but the first lucky lady to really take your fancy was Spanish seductress Catherine of Aragon.

Henry: Ah, dear Catherine. We’ve been married for twenty four years you know.

Audience applauds.

Gerald Fitzspringer: But you’re having second thoughts now, sir. Why is that? Is it because she’s reached the end of her child-bearing years without producing a son?

Henry: Well, that’s a drag, of course, Gerry. But you can’t really blame Kate for it. After all, the gender of babies is determined by the interaction of sex-chromosomes from both parents but only the impregnating sperm-cell can supply the magic Y needed for a boy. Everyone knows that.

Gerald Fitzspringer: I see, so why end a marriage that’s stood the test of time so well?

Henry: Between you and me and the nation, Gerry, there’s a bit of skirt at court that has me panting like a bulldog after a poodle and for some reason she won’t have me while I’m married.

Gerald Fitzspringer: So, lust then?

Henry: You should see her though, Gerry. Baps like two puppies in a bag and a backside you could sit your pint on.

Audience mutters.

Gerald Fitzspringer: And to be fair, sir, Queen Catherine is getting on.

Henry: At first, having an older woman was a turn on but now I’m starting to find it difficult to think of her as anything but my older brother’s widow and… you know.

Gerald Fitzspringer: You’re having difficulty fulfilling your duties as a husband?

Henry: I most certainly am not. I can get it up like a man half my age, I just don’t think someone in my position should have to settle for sloppy seconds. Had Arthur not died I would never have considered marrying her.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Your elder brother was called Arthur?

Henry: Certainly, it is a noble name.

By 1533 even the Spanish Ambassador was prepared to admit that Catherine of Aragon was becoming tetchy and ill-tempered.

Gerald Fitzspringer: So he would have been King Arthur? You jest, no?

Henry looks unamused.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Anyhow, you would never have married Catherine if you hadn’t had to fill in for your brother because she was a plate-face moose, is that your point, sir?

Henry: Queen Catherine is still your sovereign lady, sir. I’m just saying that I’m not sure I would have chosen her if I’d been given the chance. I was only 18, my father had just passed away, and I’d got this great gig as King – my head was in no state to make decisions. But now I’m more mature, I know what I want and what I want is perky tits and a firm arse. Not too much to ask for a King, is it?

Gerald Fitzspringer: No, sir. So the question now is just how to get rid of that dried up husk, Catherine of Aragon and it’s the votes of the Great British public that will decide. You know the number – 0898 6334675 add 1 for Divorce or 2 for Decapitate. You can vote as many times as you like, charges may vary and 1 groat from each text goes to charity.

Episode 2 - 1536

Gerald Fitzspringer: Lovely to see you again, Your Maj. You're looking very well.

Henry: You don't think I've put on weight?

Gerald Fitzspringer: Perhaps a few pounds, sir, but you still have shapely calves. You're a fine figure of a head of state.

Henry: And church.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Verily.

Henry: And Forsooth.

Prior to appearing on Fitzspringer Henry VIII had claimed to be interested in Anne only for her innovative armour designs, dismissed by many in the military as providing insufficient side-protection.

Gerald Fitzspringer: The viewers at home will remember you here three years ago, sir, when they voted almost three to one in favour of divorce instead of decapitation.

Henry: And I was glad of that. Kate is a dear, old thing really; we're still close, for the sake of the nipper, you know, Princess Mary.

Gerald Fitzspringer: And you have another daughter now, Princess Elizabeth. But you're having second thoughts about her mother, Queen Consort Anne, daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire. Perhaps you could tell the audience how you came to meet and what's gone wrong.

Henry: Well, Gerry, call it mid-life crisis, if you will but I'd turned forty and Kate and I had long since agreed to an open marriage...

Gerald Fitzspringer: You both had other relationships...

Henry: Well, I did. Any boyfriend of Kate's would have swiftly found himself sleeping with the fishes in the Thames. Anyway, I'd been seeing this little flirt Mary Boleyn. She was just back from the French court where she'd picked up a few tricks, I can tell you. What that filly could do with a shuttlecock!

Gerald Fitzspringer: And that was how you came to meet her younger sister, Anne?

Henry: Absolutely, I was bowled over. One day I was lord and master of all I surveyed next I was executing Lord Chancellors, dissolving monasteries and breaking with Rome just like any other infatuated bloke.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Anne had you under her spell, as it were.

Henry: If you're hinting at witchcraft, Gerry, you couldn't be more wrong. That's just tabloid gossip, the press have never liked her.

Gerald Fitzspringer: And the incest?

Henry: Scandalous lies! I've instructed lawyers to prosecute The Sun, and we have its editor in the Tower for a stretch, followed by a good scourging and then I think we may warm his feet in the fire for a while.

Gerald Fitzspringer: So it's not the suggested bad behaviour, and it's not the lack of a male heir....

Henry: Certainly not, Anne's been in pup most of our marriage. It's hardly her fault most of the whelps have carked it, Medieval London's not the healthiest place, what with all those enemies of state floating down The Fleet.

Gerald Fitzspringer: So it's another woman again?

Henry: I'm not going to deny I've been spending time with Jane Seymour but you can hardly blame a sovereign for that. Did you ever see her in "Live and let Die"? Foxiest Bond-girl ever, I'd say.

Gerald Fitzspringer: And quite wonderful in "Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman", of course.

Henry: Yes, I suppose so.

Gerald Fitzspringer: So, you've had your head turned by celebrity, you want out of your marriage and into Hollywood, and maybe another chance at an heir?

The infant Princess Elizabeth. In later life she denied that her much-vaunted virginity was simply a means to avoid exposing ginger pubes.

Henry: I know people think I'm obsessed by a son but honestly, I'm no sexist, I just don't want to be constantly reminded of my disappointments in life.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Queen Anne's infidelities?

Henry: There's no evidence of that. No, it's just that when I was eighteen I was the lion of Europe, young, handsome, sporty, musical and newly king; it seemed as though I was Heaven-blessed. And the one thing missing in my life that I wanted more than anything else was a beard, but nothing ever grew on my chin. Then I went away hunting for a few days in the New Forest and when I came back people were looking at me strangely around the palace. I didn't think much of it at the time and it's rather unmanly to spend time admiring oneself in the looking-glass, so I didn't realise what was happening until my footman brought a barber to shave me for the first time.

Gerald Fitzspringer: A big day in any monarch's life.

Henry: Yes, well I glanced at my reflection then and that was when I realised that I wasn't quite so special after all. My noble face was disfigured with a ginger beard and, as lovely as Princess Elizabeth is, all those carroty curls just bring back bad memories, it's enough to put a man off his breakfast. I need a wife who can provide babies that aren't disfigured.

Gerald Fitzspringer(to camera): So, while King Henry has a go on Hollywood actress Jane Seymour, the fate of Anne Boleyn dangles by an auburn thread and you can vote on 0898 6334675, add 1 for Divorce or 2 for Decapitate. Votes cast after 8 o'clock won't count but you may still be charged. And remember, until next time take care of yourselves and each other, unless you're Catholic - in which case, give up your loved ones for incineration.

Episode 3 - 1541

Gerald Fitzspringer: Welcome back once again to "Divorce or Decapitate" where, for the third time, we'll be meeting His Royal Highness, King Henry VIII

Audience applauds.

Rumours of Jane Seymour's drug-problems first surfaced when she appeared to be inhaling cocaine from a porcelain beaker even during her wedding to Henry.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Welcome, Your Majesty and we should remind the viewers that since we last talked you've become a widower three times over and divorced again.

Henry: That's right, poor old Kate passed away just as I was getting hitched to Jane.

Gerald Fitzspringer: And Queen Jane had a ... Hollywood moment?

Henry: It was cocaine, Gerry. there's no point denying it. I knew she had a habit before we married but I had no idea how bad it was, she'd have grovelled through the contents of the Privy Chamber if she'd thought there was any snow in there. And then one day she visited her usual dealer in Cheapside and I think he must have just changed suppliers because it was too strong for her. Tragic really, though we have little Prince Edward to remember her by.

Gerald Fitzspringer: And Queen Anne, of course, had her head removed with an axe.

Henry: That's right. A little drastic, I felt, but the public had spoken and what kind of despot would I be to deny them their democratic right.

Gerald Fitzspringer: And wife number four, sir, Queen Anne of Cleeves. Extraordinarily you traded-in after only seven months and before you'd even spoken to Divorce or Decapitate.

Henry: Seven months or seven years, Gerry. If you're not feeling it there's no point dragging the whole thing out at my time of life and besides, we were never married in the eyes of the law.

Gerald Fitzspringer: But there was that lovely ceremony we all saw on the news. Are you saying the marriage was never consummated?

Henry: I wouldn't have touched her with yours, Gerry. Talk about ugly, we used to send her down to the dungeons to extract confessions from prisoners. Ten minutes looking at her was more successful than a day in the rack.

Gerald Fitzspringer: If you don't mind me asking, sir, why marry such a dog?

Henry: It's the blasted internet. I tell you, never trust - she looked fabulous on the website but, you know how it is, when the goods arrive and you unwrap them, they're never what you expected.

Gerald Fitzspringer: And you married one of her ladies-in-waiting, Catherine Howard.

Anne of Cleaves; unconventional Tudor beauty.

Henry: Marry in haste; repent at leisure, they say. But my dander was up and then I'd had this German Gila Monster presented to me, what would you have done?

Gerald Fitzspringer: Understandable, sir. But now you're unhappy again?

Henry: What attracted me to Catherine in the first place? I'm so stupid! A sprightly lass thirty years younger, what was she ever going to see in a tub of lard like me?

Gerald Fitzspringer: And you think she's been unfaithful?

Henry: I don't just think it! You know how Geordie girls are. She made her way through half a regiment of guards before breakfast and kept the others for the afternoon.

Gerald Fitzspringer: So you'd like ..?

Henry: I'd like to cut her bloody head off myself, the slut.

Gerald Fitzspringer: Well, it's the public who decide. You know the number add 1 for Divorce and 2 for Decapitate.

Henry: One, one , one, one.

Two hours later - The Results Show.

The must-have Christmas present for little girls in 1542 was the Style-me-pretty: Catherine Howard edition.

Gerry Fitzspringer - The votes have been counted and verified. Are you ready, sir, madam?

Fitzspringer stands between Henry and his estranged Queen.

Henry - I'm a little nervous.

Gerry Fitzspringer - Tonight's audience have voted..... and ... their decision is ...

Fitzspringer grasps the hands of Henry and Catherine.

Henry - Get on with it or I'll have you flayed!

Gerry Fitzspringer: that... Lady Catherine should be ... D...

Henry: Don't think I won't. It's still illegal for Jews to live in England, I could have you burned.

Gerry Fitzspringer - ...ECAPITATED

Audience erupts into applause as the axe is brought on stage by a hooded executioner.

King Henry accepts the axe and begins to sharpen it on whet-stone.

Henry: You know, even for a man of my stature, there's nothing quite as satisfying as a spot of manual-labour. Look at that edge!


Henry married once more, to Catherine Parr saying "After two Catherines it was just easier, you know".

Catherine survived her marriage to the fury of the BBC already concerned at the sliding ratings for Divorce or Decapitate.

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