King Philip IV (‘the Fair’) of France and Henry VIII of England

This article was first published in The Present Age magazine Vol. 3 No. 5 July 2017

In a lecture of 1 October 1916 Rudolf Steiner discusses the superficiality of much of the modern study of history and points out that “when one traces things back to their causes in the superficial easy-going way that modern history largely employs, one comes to positive absurdities. Ultimately, one would have to come to the opinion that the greatest part – perhaps even the most widespread part of what happens – owes its existence not to sense but to absurdity.” “History is more or less bunk”, Henry Ford is infamously supposed to have said. A collection of absurdities and random accidents, and indeed, many people believe the same is true of science itself. The earth will eventually burn up in the sun, and the sun will burn out, they say, all of human history and development will cease to be. What will have been the point of it all? It’s all meaningless and absurd. Despite all our science, this is where we have arrived just 600 years into the epoch of the ‘Consciousness’ Soul, which according to Steiner, began in 1413. But the entire life of Rudolf Steiner was dedicated to showing that this modern, meaningless view of life, science and history is itself “bunk” and superficiality. Deep meaning is in fact everywhere to be found in human development – this is the message of anthroposophy, which shows us how to find it. We have to begin by paying careful attention to phenomena.

In that lecture of 1 Oct 1916 Steiner discusses King Henry VIII of England (1509-1547), his six wives, his founding of the Church of England and his execution of Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England, student of Pico della Mirandola, and in his youth, the author of Utopia. Clearly, Henry VIII and his actions had an enormous effect on the destiny of England, right down to today and the Brexit issue. Steiner discusses the seemingly absurd meaning of Henry VIII’s foundation of a church so that he could obtain a divorce, and in this context, he says: “after spiritual influences coming from the southwest began to decline  [i.e. those influences from the Mediterranean, from Rome, declined after the Reformation], cultural influences from England continually increased. The influence of English spiritual culture became ever stronger, first in the West and then on the entire European continent.”

Henry wanted a son to continue his line and that would make him happy. These concerns of “birth” “heredity”, “human relationship” and “happiness”(1) are discussed at length by Steiner in GA 171 (7.10.1916) as being “Western”, “European” concerns, in contrast to “Eastern”, “Asian” concerns of “death” “suffering”, and “evil”. Henry sought ‘happiness’ through a legitimate male heir, but he found it hard to get one, and was prepared to end almost 1000 years of the English connection with Rome in order to get one, such was his personal need. This indeed seems absurd, but there is very much to it, as we shall see.

The return of the Celts

Something of a Celtic spirit re-entered the kingship of England in 1485 when the half-Welsh Henry Tudor(2) defeated Richard III (of the Norman-French Plantagenet dynasty) in battle at the end of the Wars of the Roses and seized the crown to become King Henry VII (1485-1509). After an interval of almost 1000 years, the Celts had returned to power throughout the island of Britain.(3) The Celtic Welsh Tudors, however, had problems producing heirs that survived to adulthood, and after only 118 years, were replaced by the Celtic Scottish Stuarts. Richard III had usurped the crown from his nephew, the boy king Edward V in 1483. As prince, Edward had been living at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches, the border country with Wales. He soon disappeared in mysterious circumstances, most likely murdered, after he had been transferred to the Tower of London by his uncle, Richard III. 18 years later, Henry VII, always insecure on his throne and seeking allies, married his 15 year-old eldest son to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon (16). The young couple made their home at the same Ludlow Castle as the hapless boy king Edward V, but they had learned Latin in different ways, they could not communicate. Within a few months they both caught a strange illness, “a malign vapour which proceeded from the air”, usually called the “sweating sickness”, or “the English sweate” (sudor anglicus). This was a most peculiar disease that had first appeared in England in that momentous year of 1485, also the year of Catherine’s birth; the last major outbreak in Britain was in 1551, 7 years before the accession of Queen Elizabeth I. The sweating sickness therefore occurred almost entirely within the period of the Tudor dynasty.(4) In 1502 at Ludlow, Princess Catherine recovered but her young husband, still aged just 15, died. His name was Arthur. He had been deliberately given that name of the famous semi-mythical Celtic warrior king by his Welsh father Henry VII, who had hoped that the cult of King Arthur and his Knights, then currently fashionable in European court circles, would help to bolster his dynasty. But England  was not destined to have a King Arthur. As a result of the deaths by murder and disease, within 19 years, of the two boy princes, Edward and Arthur, both of whom had been resident at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh border region, England got as its king Henry VIII, the second son of Henry VII, who had died in 1509, still insecure, but very rich. Henry VIII, who then married his dead brother Arthur’s wife, with all the vast historical consequences that flowed from that marriage and subsequent divorce, would not have become king if it had not been for the deaths of those two princes, Edward and Arthur.

The malign influence of Philip IV (‘the Fair’)

But how did Henry’s father, the Welshman Henry VII, become king at all? A profound historical tapestry lies behind this. It is noteworthy that Steiner speaks about Henry VIII in the same lecture cycle that he speaks about the Knights Templar and the Mexican Mysteries (GA 171), and in the same lecture that he speaks about Henry’s execution of Sir Thomas More and the destruction of the Knights Templar. The Knights were destroyed by King Philip IV (the Fair) of France (1285-1314; see picture above), a man with an inordinate desire for gold. His great rival was Edward I of England (1272-1307) who, amongst other things, sought to conquer the Celtic periphery of Britain – Wales and Scotland. Edward, like Philip, spoke French, not English; the language of the English court would not be English for another 100 years. In 1305 the two rivals married their son and daughter to each other: Isabella of France, Philip’s daughter, married prince Edward, son of Edward I. Philip then destroyed the Templars between 1307 and 1314 to seize their gold but he died the same year (1314) as the last Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who Philip had had burned at the stake. Supposedly, this was due to a curse by the Grand Master. Philip’s three sons then all died within 14 years of his death, so in 1328 France had no male heir. Meanwhile, his daughter Isabella (see left), repelled by her homosexual husband King Edward II, took a lover, Roger de Mortimer(5), a powerful lord on the Welsh Marches (his family’s main seat was Ludlow Castle from 1301). Isabella and Roger ruled England for 3 years in the name of Isabella’s son Edward III, but he revolted against them, arrested Mortimer and had him hanged, and then, seven years later, began the 100 Years War against his mother’s country France, insisting that through her, he was its rightful king. After wreaking ruin on France for much of his reign – which also saw the Black Death come to England in the 1340s, Edward III’s son, Edward the ‘Black Prince’, died as a result of his campaigning in France and Spain and his son succeeded Edward III in 1377 as Richard II. Twenty years later, Richard was deposed by the Duke of Lancaster in 1399, a man who traced his descent from Edward III’s third son. This coup d’etat would eventually become the cause of the Wars of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster and York and their respective supporters. The House of York traced its claim to the throne from the second and fourth of Edward III’s sons.

The point about this rather complex series of events is that it ‘began’ with actions by Philip IV: the marriage of his daughter to the son of his English rival Edward I and also with Philip’s destruction of the Templars, which was followed by the deaths within 14 years of Philip and his three sons, all of whom became Kings of France but had no male issue which was required by ancient French law. The fact that Philip IV’s daughter Isabella was Queen of England meant that something from Philip IV entered the English royal line; the same genealogical fact was connected to England’s ruination of France in the 100 Years’ War, which was started by Isabella’s son Edward III in 1337. It was then followed, after Joan of Arc’s great victory over the English at Orleans in 1429 (101 years after the death of the last son of Philip IV), by civil war in England (The Wars of the Roses 1453-1485) and the consequent emergence of Henry VIII, arguably the most ruthless of English kings, who destroyed much of England’s traditional ecclesiastical heritage in order to steal its money, and had many priests and monks killed as well as the aged abbot of Glastonbury Richard Whiting who was hung, drawn and quartered on  St Michael’s Tor, a hill (and probable pre-Christian sacred site) outside Glastonbury(6) in 1539. An historical process that began with Philip IV and his daughter Isabella thus ended in a sense with Henry VIII and his childless daughter Queen Elizabeth I.

Philip IV and Henry VIII

Both these two kings Philip IV and Henry VIII happen to feature in Steiner’s lecture of 1 October 1916, and both are known for their cruelty (and that of their leading servants(7) and their great avarice, as well as for their intelligence, their cultured personalities and their handsome looks. In the reign of Philip IV, the all-in-white Order of the Knights Templar was destroyed, while during the lifetime of Henry VIII (1509-1547) the counterpart of the Templars, the all-in-black Order of the Society of Jesus, was founded (1540). Both Orders were military in nature, the Templars explicitly so , and the Jesuits implicitly, being based on military models and discipline. Both Orders were supranational and owed allegiance only to the Pope. Furthermore, it is well-known that Steiner hinted (25.9.1916) that  Philip IV had had a previous incarnation in the dark Mysteries of Mexico.

Ludlow Castle (see above), which featured in the short lives of those two princes whose sad deaths  prepared the way for Henry VIII, contains an impressive round tower chapel built in the 12th century and typical of the Knights Templar. Another connection between the two kings Philip IV and Henry VIII is the fact that Roger de Mortimer, Isabella’s lover, was the 1st Earl of March (on the Welsh border), and after the line of the Earls of March became extinct in 1425, it was shortly afterwards inherited by Richard, Duke of York, so his eldest son, Edward IV, (Henry VIII’s maternal grandfather), was also Earl of March before becoming king. The young Edward IV won his first great battle, after which he seized the throne (1461), at a place called Mortimer’s Cross, near the Welsh border, not far from Ludlow. The Yorkist army of Edward, Earl of March, defeated that of Edward , Prince of Wales, which was commanded by Jaspar Tudor and his father Owen, who supported the House of Lancaster and the hapless king Henry VI. Before the battle, Earl Edward’s army had been frightened by three suns in the sky – a metereological phenomenon called a parhelion(8) -  the sun, close to the ground, accompanied by another apparent sun on either side of it. With great presence of mind, the young Edward, only 18 but already a giant of a man and a great warrior, declared to his men that it was a sign that the Trinity was with them. After his victory, Edward adopted the heraldic ‘Sun in Splendour’ as his badge. Together with the white rose, it came to symbolise the cause of the House of York.

One of the most famous livery collars in England is the traditional Collar of SS, or SS Collar, today usually referred to as the Collar of Esses, as ‘SS Collar’ is hardly appropriate. Worn by the highest officials in the land, such as the Chancellors (see illustration of Sir Thomas More above), livery collars were symbols of allegiance to some lord or aristocratic house, or they were insignia denoting rank and authority: heavy metal chains worn around the neck and shoulders, usually with a pendant on the breast. The Collar of Esses consists of many metal letter ‘S’s. Its origin is unclear but it seems to have been first associated (pre-1370s) with John of Gaunt, the third son of King Edward III and the great-grandson of Philip IV) and thereafter with the House of Lancaster, which eventually triumphed in the Wars of the Roses that led to the new Lancastrian Tudor dynasty founded by Henry VII (Tudor) and continued by his son Henry VIII. The defeated House of York, which arguably had a better claim to the throne, had as its livery collar a row of suns and roses. It is noteworthy that Rudolf Steiner associated the consonant ‘S’ with the sign of Scorpio and stipulated for the eurythmy figure that represented the sound ‘S’ the colours grey, brown, and black. It is noteworthy that this S symbol ‘steals’ into high English society during the lifetime of Edward III, the grandson of Philip IV, and that despite all kinds of suggestions made by historians to account for it, its real origin remains unknown.

This article has been something of a preparation for the next four, which will consider two very significant Anglo-Welsh families, the Cecils and the Herberts, that came to prominence as a result of the Tudor victory in 1485 and the actions of Henry VIII – two families whose members’ actions were to have a great effect across the world centuries later, right up to our own time.

1. Issues of birth, heredity and genetics were bound up with what Steiner called “natural urges and impulses”, a euphemism for the sex drive. These issues, he says, were transformed in the West into a concern for “earthly prosperity”, or “happiness”. The original triad in the US Declaration of Independence was drawn from John Locke: “life, liberty and property”, property being a traditional indicator of earthly wealth and success, as well as ‘freedom’ from serfdom. Thomas Jefferson amended this in the draft Declaration of Independence with another Lockean phrase (from Locke’s essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690) to: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson himself in 1819 declared that the Epicurean philosophy was his own: happiness, virtue, utility.
These could be said to be the traditional priorities of ‘the West’, but not, Steiner would reply, of the East or the Centre.  See:
2. Tudur – the Welsh form of Theodoric.
3. There was an old legend, attributed to Merlin, that a red dragon (the Britons) had fought a white dragon (the Saxons) and had been defeated but that after a thousand years, the red dragon would gain the final victory.
4. The very last outbreak in England after 1551 was recorded in 1644 and killed 443 people.
5. The name Mortimer is Norman-French and means ‘dead sea’ or ‘dead pond’.
6. Today Glastonbury, the Tor hill and the ruined abbey constitute a major tourist site and a pilgrimage place for New Agers and the mystically inclined. Some regard it as the site of the very first Christian church in England, back in the time of Joseph of Arimathea, a merchant who is said to have traded in Britain and perhaps even brought the young Jesus there.
7. Philip IV: Guillaume de Nogaret and Enguerrand de Marigny ; Henry VIII: Thomas Cromwell
8. The event is described in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 (Act Two, Scene One) but without the battle.

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