For more information on the wives of Henry VIII and other counter-intuitive facts of ancient and medieval history, see Anthony Esolen’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization.
The Wives of Henry VIII: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard, Katherine Parr
Keeping track of Tudor history and its many marriages is tricky, particularly with the serial monogamist Henry VIII. This popular rhyme tells of the fate of the six wives of Henry VIII:
Divorced, beheaded, died; Divorced beheaded survived
|Catherine of Aragon – Henry VIII’s first wife and mother of Mary I |
Catherine was the youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and she came to England in 1501 at the age of 16 to marry Henry VII’s eldest son and heir to the throne, Arthur.
By 1527 Henry was having serious doubts about his marriage to Catherine. He believed that he had no sons because God was punishing him for having married his brother’s wife. He had found a passage in the Bible that backed this belief.
He had also fallen for Anne Boleyn, the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, who had recently returned to England from the French court.
Catherine refused to grant Henry a divorce or retire to a convent. Henry therefore began the Reformation in England so that he could divorce Catherine without the Pope’s permission and marry Anne Boleyn.
Catherine was divorced by Henry in 1533 and died in 1536.
|Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII’s second wife and mother of Elizabeth. |
Anne Boleyn was born in 1501. At the age of fourteen she was sent with her sister, Mary, to the French court as a maid to Queen Claude.
She returned to England in 1522 and attracted many admirers. Her sister, Mary managed to attract the King’s attention and became his mistress.
In 1526 Henry asked Anne to become his mistress, but she refused because he was a married man. Henry was determined to win Anne Boleyn and became determined to divorce Catherine and marry Anne.
The couple eventually secretly married in 1533 after Anne became pregnant. The King’s second marriage was not popular. Many people believed that Anne was a witch and had cast a spell on Henry.
When the baby was born in September 1533 Henry was cross that the baby was a girl. She was called Elizabeth.
Henry and Anne began arguing. Although Anne became pregnant twice more each time the babies were stillborn.
Henry was by now tired of Anne and wanted rid of her. He had no intention of waiting for a divorce so his ministers invented evidence showing that Anne had been unfaithful and had plotted the death of the King.
She was found guilty and was executed in May 1536.
|Jane Seymour – Henry VIII’s third wife and mother or Edward VI. |
Jane Seymour was a quiet shy girl who attracted Henry because she was so different to his first two wives, Catherine and Anne.
Henry married Jane Seymour just 11 days after the death of Anne Boleyn. He was 45 years old, Jane was 28.
Although Henry became concerned when Jane did not become pregnant immediately, he was delighted when she gave birth to a son, Edward, in October 1538.
Henry was very upset when Jane died a month later. On his deathbed, Henry requested to be buried next to Jane.
|Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife. She was divorced after six months. |
After the death of Jane, Henry remained single for two years. He had the son that he had wanted for so long and although Edward was weak and sickly, he continued to live.
Having broken free from Rome in the 1530s England was isolated from much of Europe and Henry’s advisers thought it would be a good idea for him to marry a German princess and make an alliance with the other great Protestant nation in Europe – Germany.
Two suitable princesses were chosen and Hans Holbein was sent to paint their portraits. The girls were sisters and daughters of the Duke of Cleves. Henry chose the older daughter, Anne, to be his fourth wife.
The 24 year old German Princess arrived in England in December 1539, However, Henry was horrified when he saw her and demanded that his ministers find him a way out of the marriage. Unfortunately for Henry they could not and the marriage went ahead in January 1540.
Henry was unable to consummate the marriage and the couple divorced amicably six months later.
Anne was well provided for and lived out her days in England in comfort. She outlived Henry and died in 1557.
|Kathryn Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. She was executed for adultery after two years of marriage. |
Henry had chosen his fifth wife before his divorce to Anne was finalised. The lady in question was the 15 year old daughter of Edmund Howard, Kathryn, cousin of Anne Boleyn.
The marriage took place in July 1540. Henry was 49 years old, overweight and unable to walk far due to his weight and an injury to his leg that festered and refused to heal.
Kathryn was young, lively and flirtatious. She was bored with having an old husband and sought out young friends among the courtiers.
Unfortunately for Kathryn one of the courtiers in question was a man named Francis Dereham who had known Katherine before her marriage.
He knew that she had had affairs before her marriage and used this to bribe her into giving him a good position at court.
Katherine’s actions led to her being accused of adultery and subsequently executed in 1542.
|Katherine Parr Henry VIII’s sixth wife. She outlived Henry and died in 1548. |
Henry married for the sixth time in 1543. The lady in question was Katherine Parr who had been twice widowed.
She was a kindly lady and proved a good stepmother to the King’s three children. She was also an excellent nursemaid and bathed Henry’s leg wound and comforted him when he was sick.
She came close to being tried for treason in 1546 when her enemies at court attempted to prove that she was a committed Protestant. However, she managed to convince Henry that she was loyal to him and his Church and was spared.
After Henry’s death she married Edward’s uncle, Thomas Seymour.
Katherine Parr died in childbirth in 1548.
For more information on the wives of Henry VIII and other counter-intuitive facts of ancient and medieval history, see Anthony Esolen’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization © 2008. You can find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
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This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Tudor Dynasty. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to the Tudor Dynasty.
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