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The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Condensed, Like Soup.

October 2, 2010

I was able to make this five pages by not double spacing and using 11 point Times New Roman 🙂

              Henry VIII’s reign was an exceptionally fascinating period in English history and his larger-than-life domestic affairs only serve to make him live further in fame, or infamy, be it your choice. His six wives were as different as they could have been: regal and driven Catherine of Aragon; vindictive, ambitious Anne Boleyn; Jane Seymour, the Queen with deceptive strength and a calming influence; good-humored Anne of Cleves; Katheryn Howard, a silly, foolish little girl; and Katherine Parr: an even-keeled mistress who knew her duty. Each with their own story and their own mark on history.


            On the twenty-seventh of March, 1489 the Medina del Campo was signed in Saville, Spain, making legal the betrothal of Prince Arthur and the Infanta Catalina. She was just two years old at the time. Catalina, called Catherine and her sisters accompanied their parents on crusade later that year, to the south of Spain, to Granada, which fell to them in 1492. From there, they were educated and reared in the Morrish palace of the Alhambra. She was exceptionally well educated, pious and devout and clever. It is strange though, that she came to England only speaking Latin, French and Spanish. Her English in later years was said to be competent but heavily accented. Arthur would have been pleased with his bride’s countenance, as is shown in portraits of the time, and noted by journalists of the age: she was plump, with beautiful, thick, red-gold hair that she could sit on, with clear blue eyes and a lovely figure.
            In England, the alliance through marriage of England and Spain was well liked. At St. Peter’s a great scaffold with a platform was erected so that the commoners could see the couple take their vows. On the fourteenth of November in 1501, Arthur and Catherine wed. It is necessary to point out that while it was Arthur she was marrying, young Henry, future Henry VIII was the one giving Catherine away at the ceremony. At the end of the evening, the couple was formally put to bed.
            What happened next? According to witnesses, Arthur proclaimed feeling “lusty” and in the morning that he “had been in Spain” and marriage was “thirsty work”. If one were to ask Catherine, as she was frequently, she would maintain her virginity- that Arthur was impotent and unable to consummate on the five or six occasions they were compelled to share a bed. Some historians believe that since she was a highly religious person with excellent moral character that she would not lie about something of this importance. What I question is this: was she truly her Mother’s daughter and motivated by her own ambitions and saw her virginity, whether in tact or not, as a useful and valuable bargaining chip to play?
            In late March, though, both Catherine and Arthur were struck with an illness. Catherine recovered, but on the second of April, Arthur died. As Catherine was still a fine match for England, it was decided that she would either marry the King himself, or be betrothed to the new Prince of Wales, Henry. In 1503, Pope Julius sent a Bull of Dispensation for Henry and Catherine to marry, setting aside the forbidden degrees of affinity. One can only assume that it is possible that the English did not actually intend to make Catherine Henry’s bride, as the betrothal was secretly recanted in 1505.
            Finally, in 1509, Henry VII died and all of Catherine’s years of waiting and humiliation were coming to an end. She was regarded previously as a possible but ill-advised bride by the council. She had lived humbly, with no new clothing for a very long time and the butt of court jokes. There was no doubt in the world’s minds, though, that Henry would marry Catherine. The repudiation was not public knowledge, and it was well known that Henry had always been on close, affectionate terms with Catherine. In June 1509, the King was urged by the privy council to fulfill the terms of the betrothal and marry poste haste. There is proof, even at this early date, that Henry questioned the canonical legitimacy of the marriage, but the fears were assuaged with, “we have the Pope’s dispensation. Will you be more scrupulous than he is?”.
            So they were married on the eleventh of June in 1509 in Greenwich at a private ceremony in the new Queen’s closet, or study. Henry spoke well of her, genuinely in love. Through the course of their marriage, Henry would continue to show her the same respect and genuine affection. He congratulated himself on finding a most suitable bride: perceiving her as meek and underestimating her tenacity. In 1509, they made to welcome their first child- a premature stillborn daughter. Again in 1510, Catherine was pregnant. Henry strayed from Catherine’s bed and she rebuked him and chastised him much to the dismay of the Spanish ambassador. She left her dignity behind with the affair and she would never again criticize. On New Year’s Day, she was delivered of a Prince, called Henry, who would only live for three months.
            In June of 1513, Catherine was to be named Regnant in Henry’s absence- a campaign to France. Henry and his force captured several towns in France before returning home in the Autumn. During the interim, Katherine and the Earl of Surrey mounted a force against the Scottish which resulted in the death of King James IV and the Battle of Flodden.
            Finally, in 1518, Mary was born, the only of her six pregnancies that would come to fruition. Henry became frantic for a male heir, but ceased joining Catherine in her bed in 1524. In 1527, Henry would mention the great doubts he was facing in the validity of his marriage. By this time, Catherine had attached no significance to Henry’s affairs. In May, few had realized the gathering momentum of a new attachment. The lady kept him at bay and flouted her virginity. She was an all or nothing sort of ambitious woman by the name of Anne Boleyn.
            This woman, born perhaps in 1500, is bipolarlly described by biographers: she is either the beatific Protestant Queen supported by John Aylmer and George Wyatt or she is as the Spanish ambassador referred to her, “the English Messalina or Agrippina,” a woman who would use any means to hold the King and have his heir- not even stopping short of incest and adultery. She was, however, indiscreet, arrogant, vindictive and prone to abrubt mood swings and a violent temper.
                In 1513, around age twelve or thirteen, Anne was called to Austria to the Regent Margaret’s court. She stayed there for eighteen months improving her French and then was moved to France to serve Mary Tudor, the new Queen of France. After Louis VII died, she was taken under the wing of the new Queen, Claude of Valois. From here, she learned the poise that she would be known for her entire life- “So graceful that you would have never taken her for an Englishwoman, but for a Frenchwoman born.” As told by Lancelot de Carles. She learned the quick wit of the French court that would take her farther than her own meager looks could have. She was petite and fragile-looking with dark eyes and hair, but with small breasts and a sallow complection. She was, however, blessed with an indefinable sex appeal which incited the young men of the courts to swarm about her. This did not change when she was brought to England in 1522.
            In 1523 or thereabout, Anne set her eye on the young heir to the earldom of Northumberland, Henry Percy. He was quick to propose and that summer he proposed and secretly betrothed himself to Anne before witnesses. This news reached Cardinal Wolsey who immediately took the matter to the King as Anne was of common birth and Percy was betrothed since 1516 to Lady Mary Talbot. According to Cavendish, the knowledge of Anne betrothed to another upset him that he confessed to the Cardinal the ‘secret affection’ he was nursing for her and ordered the breaking of the betrothal. Percy railed, but it was no use. Anne was furious with the Cardinal: calling her ‘a foolish girl’ and implying she was unfit to be a Countess. She said openly that ‘she would work the Cardinal as much displeasure as he had some her’. She did not have her chance yet, but would soon- when she and Henry were hurtling towards marriage with nothing to stop them but the Pope. Anne was banished from court until 1525.
            At this point, Catherine was approaching forty and Anne showed a colorful contrast to her piety and grave nature. Henry chased and Anne stayed just out of reach, planting the seeds of dissention in Henry’s brain, ‘Your wife I cannot be…Your mistress I will not be’ she is said to have told him. Anne was playing an all or nothing game. She set out on a dangerous course- refusing to surrender to the King but still keeping his attentions. In 1527, Henry set the wheels turning on an ecclesiastical level for the divorce of Catherine. Finally, in 1529 a court began, where Katherine gave a stirring, unprecedented speech directly to the king. It was for naught, though, and the proceedings continued.
            At long last, Catherine was put aside in 1533 and Henry and Anne, newly installed Marquess of Pembroke, were married at the end of January in secret. Catherine was sent north to Durham House where she continued to sign her correspondence until her death as Catherine the Queen. Anne was heavily pregnant when she reached London for her coronation at the first of June 1533. She was ill-received by the people of London. In the beginning of September, Anne was taken into confinement and later gave birth to a fine, red-haired girl called Elizabeth. By the end of 1533, the joy in Henry and Anne’s marriage had worn off, leaving Henry cold and Anne foul-tempered. Queen Anne had, in December of 1533, a miscarriage, in July 1534, a miscarriage, stillborn or perhaps a child who died soon after birth, in June 1535, a miscarriage and finally in late January 1536, soon after Queen Catherine’s death, a fourth miscarriage. Soon, Henry grew tired of her and began concocting a way to be rid of her in 1534
            It is thought that Anne was among a small number of women who are rhesus negative and who, during a first pregnancy that results in a healthy child, may produce a fatal substance called agglutinogen, which would make it impossible for Anne to have another living child. This was undiscovered until the 1940s. Her miscarriages only stirred Henry’s fanaticism over a male heir to a boiling point. They had raging arguments, screaming matches and passionate make-ups.        Things begin to speed up in November 1535, where we have the first instance of Henry’s courtship of a woman of noble birth by the name of Jane Seymour. She was considered to be endowed with all of the virtues Anne did not possess: meekness, docility and quiet dignity and modesty. She was also known to be an Orthodox Catholic, making her quite popular in Europe. She was poorly educated, but ‘of good understanding’ although nearly illiterate. Medium-height with blonde hair and very white skin, Jane was Anne’s opposite in nearly every way.
            In May of 1535, Anne was taken to the tower with several other men, her brother included, and they are convicted and beheaded under the charges of witchcraft, incest and adultery. Anne is noted for her composure during her beheading, where a French swordsman is employed to ease the pain. It should be noted, also, that although history paints Lady Seymour as a pious, gentle and kind woman, she still picked out her wedding clothing on the day of Anne Boleyn’s execution.
            Just ten days later, on the twentieth of May 1535, Jane and Henry were married in a private ceremony. Her coronation was left until a later date. Her first item of business was to restore the Lady Mary into her father’s affections, which she succeeded with in June 1536. She was returned to court and Mary and Jane become fast friends. In June of 1537, Queen Jane’s pregnancy was announced to the Privy Council.
            On the afternoon of the ninth of October 1537, Jane was taken to her bed laboring. The difficult birth goes on for several days and finally at two in the morning on the twelfth, the birth of Edward, a fair-haired healthy boy was born. Just twelve days later, Jane likely died of puerperal fever, likely from an infection from a tear in her perineum. It is also possible that she died due to an infection from a retained placenta. She was buried with great state, having accomplished nearly everything she had set out to in only two short years. She is thought to be Henry VIII’s favorite wife.
            Two and a half years elapsed between Jane’s death and the procurement of his next bride in Anne of Cleves. She was not Henry’s first choice, first preferring a French bride, possibly Mary of Guise and then the Duchess of Milan, born Christina of Denmark. Finally, he looked to Germany for the Duke of Cleves had two marriageable daughters, Anne and Amelia.
            Anne, born the twenty-second of September in 1515 was the third child of the Duke of Cleves and Mary of Julich-Berg-Ravensberg. When Holbein was sent to paint the daughters, he was met with the countenance of a tall, thin woman with no great beauty and a long nose. She also fell to smallpox after the portrait was painted and had pitted skin. She was a gentle, quiet and discreet woman who was brought up in a highly sheltered environment. She was a quick learner, and eager to please. She spoke only German when Holbein painted her, making it impossible to communicate with Henry at that time, but she tenaciously studied after the betrothal. Anne was chosen over Amelia by the King.
            Unfortunately for all those involved, Henry did not like what he was presented with. It can be assumed that Anne’s charms were exaggerated, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what Henry found so distasteful. He was forced by convention to marry her on the ninth of July of 1450. Very close to his marriage, a young woman by the name of Katheryn Howard caught his eye.
             Katheryn was born around 1525 in County Durham, a cousin to Anne Boleyn. Katheryn, as the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, held an aristocratic pedigree for all he was poor. Around 1531, Katheryn was sent to live with Agnes Tilney, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, her grandmother. The Dowager Duchess kept a court of her own at Lambeth, but was not attentive to the behaviors of her ladies or their education. As a result, Katheryn was barely literate and by her early teens had already attracted a slew of admirers. She was small, with brown hair and eyes and possessed a sunny and pert disposition without the arrogance of her cousin Anne.
            Henry, having left Anne a virgin, applied for and received an annulment of his marriage to Anne on the ninth of July 1540. In appreciation of her acquiescence, he was very generous to her, giving her Hever Castle, the Boleyn Family ancestral home, and making her an official sister of his. On the twenty-eighth of the same month, Henry and Katheryn Howard were married at Oatlands.  Their marriage was anticlimactic for the bride- the groom was almost fifty and nearing three hundred pounds with a smelling, festering ulcer on his.
              Early in 1451, Katheryn embarked on a romance with a gentleman by the name of Thomas Culpeper. As a teen, she had committed indiscretions with a music teacher, Henry Manox, and with a secretary of the Duchess of Norfolk’s household, Francis Dereham. Manox proved to be a relatively innocent relationship, that is, not a sexually active one. Dereham and Katheryn indulged each other sexually beginning in 1548 and acted as husband and wife for the time they were at Lambeth. Dereham and Katheryn engaged in traditional matrimonial roles, Katheryn fulfilling various wifely duties, such as keeping his money when he was away on business. When Dereham was sent to Ireland, many contemporary historians believe that Katheryn and he were betrothed.
             During Henry and Katheryn’s summer tour her extramarital affair with Culpeper continued in intensity, ultimately leading to her charges of treason and adultery. Lady Jane Rochford, sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn, acted as the intermediary in the affair.
            On the twenty-third of November 1541, Katheryn was stripped of her title of Queen and imprisoned at Syon Abbey in Middlesex. On the twenty-first of January 1542 an act of Parliament was passed making it treason ‘for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within 20 days of their marriage, or to incite someone to have adultery with her’. Katheryn was taken to the Tower of London on the tenth of February, to be executed on the thirteenth. It is said that the night before her execution Katheryn requested the block to be brought to her room so that she could practice how to place her head. In the morning she was beheaded with a single stroke and buried in an unmarked grave at St. Peter-ad-Vincula. The next person to be executed was the Lady Jane Rochford, said to now be insane but executed by a special dispensation by the King. She was buried next to Katheryn Howard.
            Soon enough, though, Henry had set his eye roaming again. This time, he set them on the wife of Lord Latimer, who was in exceptionally poor health, Katherine Parr. She was around thirty at this point- no young, giddy thing like Katherine Howard. Katherine was born around 1512, likely on the eleventh of November of that year. She was educated in the wifely arts and in French by her mother, Lady Maude Green. She is considered to be the ‘most erudite and the most intellectual’ of Henry’s wives. The Parrs were respected and well connected, although not very rich. Around 1526, at age fourteen, she was married to Lord Borough. Some say she married the younger Edward de Burgh, who died in April 1533, but it is more likely that she married his grandfather, another Edward de Burgh who would have been sixty-three when he married Katherine. Lord Borough died in 1528, and her mother the following year, making her an independent woman of means at sixteen. In 1530, she accepted a proposal from Lord Latimer of Snape Castle in Yorkshire. He was in his late thirties and of the great medieval house of Neville. Little happened in their years of marriage. There were no children. In the late 1530s, the Latimers were often at court. On the second of March 1543, Lord Latimer died.
            From here, Katherine seems to have stayed on at court after falling in love with Thomas Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour. They began talking marriage in the spring of 1543. Henry was quite jealous- he meant to have the Widow Latimer. Until this time, in late April or early May of 1543, Katherine seemed unaware of the King’s intentions. At this time, Henry sent Seymour on a permanent embassy to the court of the Regent of the Netherlands in Brussels. She had no choice but to succumb to the King. Her initial reaction was one of dismay- she was not attracted to the King and was still in love with Seymour.  It was obvious that the King would not take no for an answer, and she capitulated. They married the twelfth of July in 1543. She was universally loved, but not given a coronation as she was not yet pregnant with an heir. The king took his bride to Windsor where he celebrated their marriage with having three Protestant heretics burned at the stake. Many were watching the Queen closely- it was rumored that she had Lutheran sympathies, but she made no attempt in intercede.
            At the beginning of July 1547, a rumor is reignited: Katherine might be a heretic. She saved herself with a masterfully subservient speech to Henry in his bedchamber. In mid-July of 1547 until the end of September, Katherine ruled as regent while Henry was campaigning in France. He took Boulogne in September.
            By January of that year, 1547, his health had worsened and he died on the twenty-eighth. Within six months of Henry’s death, Katherine was free to marry her Thomas Seymour in April of 1547. Their joy was not long-lived, though, as she died giving birth to a daughter the thirtieth of August 1548.
            No ruler before or after Henry VIII has made such a splash domestically. It will be a hard life to top: the young, naïve ruler in love with his brother’s widow; the young man, the roué; the confident adult choosing a bride from Germany; the jilted lover; the patriarch. He lives on immortal, with his fabulous six wives.

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