Sunday, January 1, 2012

January 1, 1511: The Birth of Henry, Duke of Cornwall

What a great New Year's Day present for the King and Queen of England, Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon--a baby boy! He was their second child and first son--heir apparent. His older sister was born prematurely and stillborn on January 31, 1510. Baby Henry was baptized on January 5th with King Louis XII of France and William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury as godfathers and Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy as his godmother, although his great-aunt Anne of York, Countess of Surrey stood in as proxy for her (representing a great link to the Plantagenet line as her father was Edward IV). He was called the Duke of Cornwall and would have been named the Prince of Wales--Katherine was still the Princess of Wales--had he survived infancy.

Sadly, "the New Year's boy", "Little Prince Hal" died on February 22, 1511. Both parents, so recently united in pride and joy in their little boy were now devastated by grief and sorrow. Katherine spent hours praying on her knees while Henry went to war against France and Spain. They would experience this pattern again when another Henry, Duke of Cornwall was born and survived a month in 1514 after another stillborn infant in 1513.

I presume it would have been an inconvenient fact to point out to Henry years later when he protested that their marriage was invalid in God's eyes and that's why Katherine had borne him no sons--she did bear him sons. They just did not survive infancy! What might have been if either Henry, Duke of Cornwall had survived infancy and become Henry, Prince of Wales and then King Henry IX? Would there have been any English Reformation at all? Would we even know who Anne Boleyn was?

When these alternative history questions begin to whirl through one's mind, their uselessness becomes apparent very quickly. We simply can't know what would have happened, since it didn't, obviously. Although it's at first a comforting to think that England might have remained Catholic and the monasteries and friaries might have never been destroyed, we might have also lost the great models of faith and devotion we find today in the martyrs from Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher to St. Edmund Campion and St. Margaret Clitherow. (And there would have been no reason for me to write Supremacy and Survival!)

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