King Henry VIII reigned as King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He is often noted for his many wives and “inventing” divorce. After his first wife Catherine of Aragon failed at providing him a male heir Henry made the decision to move on to more promising options, Anne Boleyn.
With the pope choosing to decline his request for divorce Henry eventually ordered the Archbishop of Canterbury to grant him the divorce so he could be free to marry Anne Boleyn. This act lead to the eventual reformation and England broke away from the Pope and the Catholic Church while instating Henry as the head of Church. Although this caused some turmoil and changed the view of marriage within England it set the groundwork for England’s modern culture we see today.
Now let’s take a look at these ladies who loved, seduced, feared and infuriated King Henry. First and foremost watch this catchy video for an amusing way to remember these 6 famous wives. You won’t be able to get the tune out of your head, hopefully along with some of the facts!
For a deeper education read each wife’s short biography provided by Historic Royal Palaces (hrp.org.uk)
Catherine of Aragon
The first of Henry VIII’s six wives, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) was a Spanish princess who was married to Henry for 18 years before he began divorce proceedings in his desperation to re-marry and produce a male heir.
Catherine had been pregnant six times but only one daughter, Princess Mary, later Mary I, had survived. Dying in 1536, Catherine wrote to Henry: ‘Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things. Farewell.’
The second of Henry VIII’s six wives, Anne Boleyn (c1501-1536) was married to the King for only three years from 1533-1536.
Instead of the sought after male heir, Anne was pregnant with another princess, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I).
Anne was supported by religious reformers but was also hated by many at court. After a miscarriage, her fate was sealed and she was arrested (and later executed at the Tower of London) for adultery and incest.
Jane Seymour (c1509-1537) was the third of Henry VIII’s six wives and the only wife to provide the King with the much longed for son and male heir.
Having married Henry in May 1536, she gave birth to Prince Edward (later Edward VI) at Hampton Court Palace in 1537 but died soon afterwards.
Henry had his son but grieved: ‘Providence has mingled my joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness.’
Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves (1515-1557) was the fourth of Henry VIII’s six wives and at 24 was half Henry’s age when they married in January 1540.
Henry first saw Anne of Cleves in a painting by Hans Holbein but in the flesh, Henry found Anne unattractive and began pursuing one of her maids of honour, Catherine Howard.
After six months the marriage was annulled yet Anne remained in England and on good terms with Henry VIII. He commanded that she be treated as ‘the king’s sister’
Henry VIII’s fifth wife was an alluring teenager named Kathryn Howard (c1522-1542).
Married three weeks after his second divorce, rumours of Kathryn’s past and present love affairs reached a furious Henry. She was arrested at Hampton Court Palace and later taken to the Tower of London where she was beheaded in February 1542, aged about 21.
Katherine Parr (1512-1548) was the last of Henry VIII’s six wives.
Intelligent and devout, Katherine loved Thomas Seymour but Henry’s proposal could not be refused. She and Henry VIII married at Hampton Court Palace in July 1543. He was 52, she was 31.
After the King’s death in 1547, Katherine was free to marry Seymour but she died 15 months later, aged 36, having given birth to their daughter.
P.S. For a more in depth and thoroughly entertaining depiction of Henry and his wives check out The Tudors television series. Although not completely historically accurate it portrays the tale in a memorable way while providing the general storyline.
HOMEWORK: Which of King Henry’s wives intrigues you most? I was always a fan of the conniving Anne Boleyn.