The Six Wives of Henry VIII

By Guest Author Anne Lesley:

Henry was born on 28 June 1491, in Palencia Palace, Greenwich.

As a young man Henry VIII at a striking 6’2” was powerfully built, athletic, charismatic and witty. He was well educated, loved the arts and culture and was highly accomplished in many pursuits including music, jousting, archery and dance.

He was much admired by the ladies.

But this is the story of his wives.

Divorced, Beheaded – Died. Divorced, Beheaded – Survived.

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Catherine of Aragon was born on 16 December 1485 at The Archbishops Palace in Alcala de Henares near Madrid. She was the youngest surviving child of Isabella I of Castille and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.

She had a very religious upbringing and was known to be a stern woman with a stubborn streak. She was however believed to enjoy hunting, dancing and music, amongst other things and these gave her a great deal of pleasure.

Catherine had been betrothed to Henry’s older brother when she was only three years old and she married Arthur, Prince of Wales, on 14 November 1501 only ten days after meeting him.

She was only 15 years of age and it is believed, not being able to speak each others language, they were unable to understand each other due to being taught different pronunciations of Latin.

While residing at Castle Lodge in Ludlow, Arthur became ill and died on 2 April 1502.

They had been married only 5 months.

After the death of Arthur, Henry VII did not want to return Catherine’s dowry to her father. He therefore agreed after much haggling that she would marry his son Henry, Duke of York when he became of age, and 14 months after the death of Arthur, Catherine and Henry were betrothed.

During this time Catherine had lived as a virtual prisoner at Durham House in London.

For Catherine to marry Henry, the Pope had to grant a dispensation as under canon law a man was forbidden from marrying his brother’s widow. Catherine testified that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated and under the same law a marriage was not valid if not consummated, therefore the marriage could go ahead.

Catherine married Henry on 11 June 1509, seven years after the death of Arthur.

Henry VIII had recently acceded to the throne and was just short of his 18th birthday, Catherine was 23.

They married in a private ceremony at Greenwich Church and shortly after the wedding on 24 June 1509, Catherine was crowned Queen of England in a joint coronation ceremony with her husband.

Henry was said to have a great deal of affection for Catherine during the early years of their marriage and they were believed to be happy. She was to be pregnant six times to Henry but only one child survived – a daughter, Mary.

Catherine was to lose three sons and two daughters mostly stillborn. Their son Henry, Duke of Cornwall who did survive amid much celebration died just 52 days later.

Catherine was to wield much influence during the early years of Henry’s reign and in domestic matters regarding their marriage she was to prove herself a resilient and resourceful woman, but her failure to produce a male heir caused the marriage to sour.

Henry believed that his marriage was cursed and that he should never have married his brother’s widow.

In 1525 Henry became infatuated with Anne Boleyn, a Lady in Waiting to the Queen.

Due to this infatuation he wished to have his marriage to Catherine annulled.

Pope Clement VII refused to annul the marriage as Catherine swore that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. Henry continued to petition the Pope, but he would not assent to his demands.

The only way for Henry to declare his marriage invalid was to break with the Catholic Church and make himself supreme head of the Church in England.

After eight years of legal wrangles and religious squabbling finally in 1533 the marriage was declared invalid by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Catherine was to live the rest of her life as the Dowager Princess of Wales, a title she refused to acknowledge right through to her death.

She spent her later years at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire which is where she died on 7 January 1536. She was buried at Peterborough Cathedral.

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There is much speculation over the year of Anne Boleyn’s birth. It is believed to be somewhere between 1500 and 1507.

She was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard.

Little is known of her very early life, but she lived for many years in Europe and was educated both in the Netherlands and France. She worked in the French Court of King Louis XII of France as a lady-in-waiting to his wife Mary, the sister of Henry VIII.

Anne returned to England in 1522 and became Lady in Waiting to Queen Catherine.

By 1523 she was betrothed to Lord Henry Percy.

This betrothal was broken off by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, it is believed at the request of King Henry.

Did Henry already have his eyes on her at this time? We cannot be sure for it is stated that he did not start to pursue her until 1526.

Anne was a vivacious and flirtatious woman with an abundance of charm and a quick wit, but she was also ambitious and politically astute.

The young men at court would swarm around her finding her glamorous and maybe even exotic, and she certainly knew how to entice them to her. Anne however refused to become Henry’s mistress.

She had already seen how her sister Mary, who had already been Henrys mistress was treated – ridiculed at court and then cast aside and she wanted a good deal more than that for herself.

She did however tease Henry just enough to keep him interested until he became obsessed with her and was determined to make her his wife.

The only person standing in his way was his current wife Queen Catherine.

As we have already seen it was to take Henry many years to have his marriage to Catherine annulled, and he could only do so by breaking with the Catholic Church and becoming the Head of the Church of England.

Henry did not believe his marriage to Catherine to have ever been legal and therefore to have never existed. He had already married Anne Boleyn in a private ceremony in January 1533.

On 1 June 1533 Anne was crowned Queen of England.

Both the marriage and the coronation had to be rushed through due to Anne being pregnant and to secure the legitimacy of the child.

Much to Henry’s disappointment Anne gave birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth on 7 September 1533.

Anne suffered three further miscarriages and was unable to produce a male heir. Again this failure put a strain on the marriage.

Anne became aware in 1535 that Henry had taken a fancy to her lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour. It seemed like a horrible déjà vu, especially when Jane was soon to become his mistress.

A plot was instigated to bring the downfall of the Queen and what followed was the arrest of five people accused of having had sexual relations with the Queen. They were Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris and Anne’s own brother Lord Rochford.

Sir Thomas Wyatt had also been arrested but was later released.

Mark Smeaton is the only one to have pleaded guilty, probably due to being tortured, but in doing so he implicated the others.

None of the arrested men except for Lord Rochford were allowed to defend themselves in court. They were convicted on 12 May 1536 and executed five days later.

A secret commission was formed to investigate Queen Anne for High Treason, and she was charged with Adultery, Incest and Witchcraft.

She was tried and convicted on 15 May. Whether the evidence produced against her was true is unlikely but she had made many enemies at court.

Anne Boleyn was executed on Friday 19 May 1536 after only 3 years of marriage.

She was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the grounds of the Tower of London. Her remains were later discovered during chapel renovations.

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Jane Seymour is believed to have born between 1508 and 1509 probably at Wolf Hall near Savernake Forest in Wiltshire.

She was the daughter of John Seymour and Margery Wentworth.

She was not well educated and could barely read let alone write her own name.

Her knowledge of household duties was considered far more important than a formal education and she was proficient in duties such as gardening and needlework.

Much of her early life before her arrival at Court remains in obscurity.

She was known to be a calm and gentle person with a modest, timid and compassionate personality.

Is this what first attracted Henry to her? She was certainly very different to his first two wives.

Jane was Maid of Honour to Queen Catherine in 1532 but may have been at Court and in the service of Catherine earlier than this.

She was also Lady in Waiting to Queen Anne and this is when Henry first became interested in her and in early 1536 she became his mistress.

The demise of Queen Anne was well underway and Jane was already being spoken of as Henry’s future wife.

Queen Anne was beheaded on 19 May 1536 and Henry was betrothed to Jane just one day later.

They were married on 30 May at the Palace of Whitehall in London.

Jane was never crowned Queen and no coronation ever took place due to a plague in London at the time. However the belief is widely held that Henry wanted to see if she could fulfil her duty and bear him a son and heir before crowning her as Queen.

Jane showed compassion with regards to Henry’s daughter Mary. She wished to have her restored to both the Court and succession to the throne.

She failed to have her restored to the line of succession but she did however succeed in reconciling Mary to her father and also his other daughter Elizabeth.

During her marriage Jane was a strict and formal Queen consort. She was conservative and reserved and banned the extravagance of her predecessors; she believed in decorum at Court.

Only once did Jane challenge Henry in public and that was to ask for pardons for the participants of the rebellion against the Protestant reforms then underway known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

This Henry rejected and he also made sure she knew what could happen to her if she interfered again. She never did.

To great rejoicing Jane gave birth to a son, the future Edward VI, on 12 October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace and Henry at last had his male heir.

It had been a difficult labour, and not long after the birth Jane became seriously ill.

She died from complications on 24 October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace.

Henry felt her loss deeply. He had displayed a true and genuine affection for Jane.

Jane was the only one of Henry’s wives to be given a Queens Funeral and she was buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on 12 November 1537.

Henry was later to be buried next to her.

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Anne of Cleves was born on 22 September 1515 in Dusseldorf, Germany to parents John III Duke of Cleves and Maria Duchess of Julich –Berg and she grew up in Schloss Burg on the edge of Solingen.

Her character was considered resolute and solemn. She was also known to be gentle, good humoured and considerate. Her virtuous nature made her very naïve in the ways of men and marriage.

She did not have a formal education and was not taught any literature, languages, music or cultural pursuits at all, which were all pleasures that Henry enjoyed and liked to share. Instead Anne was educated in household duties and was excellent at needlework. She was also able to read and write, but only in her native German.

At the age of 11 in 1527 Anne was betrothed to the ten year old Francis, son and heir to the Duke of Lorraine. This betrothal was later classed as unofficial and was cancelled in 1535.

England had been politically and diplomatically isolated since its break with the Catholic Church and a foreign alliance with another Protestant State was deemed important and Thomas Cromwell urged Henry, still in mourning for the loss of his Jane to marry again to secure this alliance.

Hans Holbein, the Court painter was despatched to take portraits of the three Cleves sisters and Henry on seeing these portraits chose Anne to be his bride.

When Anne arrived in England, Henry was eager to see her but this not last long. Upon meeting her for the first time he deemed the portrait to have flattered her greatly and he found her undesirable and possibly even repulsive.

If he had not needed a foreign alliance he would have sent her straight back home.

Henry reluctantly went ahead with the wedding and they were married on 6 January 1540 in Greenwich, London but it was not to be a happy marriage.

Henry and Anne struggled to converse as Anne only spoke German and Henry’s German was very basic. Their conversation was usually translated through others such as by her ladies-in- waiting, some of whom at least could speak English.

The marriage was never consummated and Henry was already looking for ways to end it before it had even begun.

He found his new wife completely unattractive but Anne being very naïve imagined that the kiss goodnight or the touch of his hand was the normal way for a husband to behave.

By this point in his life Henry had lost his youthful good looks and was not the attractive, virile man that he had once been. Indeed he was now fat and bloated and well past his prime.

Henry wanted to annul his marriage to Anne and this was confirmed on 9 July 1540.

As she had agreed to the divorce without demur she was treated well by Henry and received a generous settlement.

She was to continue to live quietly in the countryside although she remained in the King’s favour and was to return to Court many times.

She died at Chelsea Old Manor in London in July 1557 the exact date is disputed, aged 41.

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The precise date of birth of Catherine Howard is unknown but is believed to be between 1518 and 1523 in Lambeth, London to parents Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper.

Catherine’s mother died when she was quite young and she was sent to live in the household of her step-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. There was very little supervision given to Catherine’s behaviour at this time and in many respects she was allowed to run free.

Although she did receive an education and was able to read and write, lessons were never taken particularly seriously. The one lesson she did enjoy was music and she started a sexual relationship with her music teacher Henry Mannox in 1536.

Her age around this time would have most likely been about 13 or 15.

Although Mannox, many years her senior, may have been practised in the art of seduction Catherine was herself known to be flirtatious, giggly and silly and there is little doubt that she also would have pursued Mannox.

When this relationship was discovered Catherine claimed that it had not been consummated although she did allow him to touch her sexually. She never seemed to have any concept of the possible repercussions of her actions.

In 1538 Catherine started an affair with Francis Dereham, Secretary to the Dowager Duchess, and this affair was most definitely consummated.

When the affair came to the attention of the Dowager Duchess it was ended forthwith and Dereham was sent on business to Ireland. It is believed that Catherine and Dereham had an agreement to marry on his return but by the time he did so Catherine was already at Court.

Catherine’s uncle the Duke of Norfolk found her a position as lady- in-waiting to Queen Anne and it was here that Henry first noticed her.

She had a personality that was vivacious and she exuded a sexual allure that she used to attract men. It did not take long for Henry to become besotted.

Before he had even finalised his divorce from Anne, he had chosen Catherine to be his next wife. He was so infatuated with her that he lavished gifts on her including land and property that seemed so excessive as to be foolish.

Catherine, first cousin to Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn married Henry on 28 July 1540.

Although her marriage to Henry was sexually active, Catherine preferred the attention of men her own age. Henry was after all 49, morbidly obese and suffering with an ulcerated leg which affected his walking; even so he still thought he was attractive to young women.

It is possible that she enjoyed Henry’s company but not in the marriage bed. It did not take long for the young Catherine to seek sexual favours away from her marriage.

In early 1541 she started an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper and once set on this course her life started to spiral out of control. She was contacted by various people who knew about her past indiscretions and promiscuous behaviour and she was bribed into providing them with sexual favours to guarantee their silence. She was essentially prostituting herself.

She also made her former lover Francis Dereham her Personal Secretary, a mistake that would come back to haunt her.

Less than a year into her marriage rumours of her infidelity began to circulate for she was less than discreet regarding her affair with Culpeper.

John Lascelles a Protestant reformer received information from his sister Mary Hall who worked in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household, regarding Catherine’s promiscuity and her affairs with both Culpeper and Dereham.

Lascelles reported this information to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who then wrote to Henry. Initially he was unwilling to accept Catherine had been unfaithful, but he agreed for further investigations to take place.

Dereham was arrested and under torture he admitted having an affair with the Queen prior to her marriage to Henry but denied any sexual behaviour with Catherine since the wedding.

He did however name Culpeper as her current lover who, arrested and also under torture admitted his affair.

Dereham and Culpeper were executed at Tyburn on 10 December 1541.

Their severed heads were placed on spikes at London Bridge for all to see.

Catherine had also been arrested on 12 November 1541 and imprisoned at Syon Abbey in Middlesex. During her trial both Henry Mannox and her ladies-in-waiting testified against her.

She had the opportunity to provide evidence that would have invalidated her marriage to Henry, but she denied that there had been any agreement with Francis Dereham to marry.

She was executed on 13 February 1542 at Tower Green and buried near to Anne Boleyn at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.

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The exact date of Katherine Parr’s birth is unknown but is believed to be around 1512. Again the location is in dispute and could have been either at home in Kendal or at the Royal Court in London.

She was the oldest surviving child of Thomas Parr and Maud Green and during her early life Katherine showed a passion for learning and was fluent in French, Latin and Italian. She was to continue her education whilst married to Henry, learning Spanish.

Katherine had already been married and widowed twice before when she met Henry. She had also started a relationship with Thomas Seymour the brother of Henry’s third wife Jane.

Katherine desired to marry Seymour but accepted Henry when he asked for her hand in marriage.

They were married on 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court Palace.

Henry was by now 52 years old and so obese that he had to be reliant upon mechanical devices to move about.

Katherine was to become more of a carer to Henry than a wife. She used to keep him occupied with theological debates, which became heated at times but they both seemed to enjoy the arguments and disagreements they had.

Although Henry’s third wife Jane had reconciled him to his two daughters it was Katherine who was responsible for the agreement to place them back in the line of succession after Edward, Prince of Wales.

In 1546 there was a plot against Katherine as she was interested in taking the Reformation further which made her unpopular with the conservatives in Henry’s court and they convinced him to have an arrest warrant drawn up for her

Katherine reconciled with Henry explaining that she only argued with him about religion to take his mind off his other troubles.

Henry’s health continued to deteriorate and in December 1546 he wrote his Will.

He died on 28 January 1547 and was buried at his own request next to his third wife Jane Seymour. His current wife Katherine Parr outlived him.

After the coronation of Henry’s successor Edward VI, Katherine retired from court and went to live in her old home Old Manor in Chelsea.

She married her former suitor Thomas Seymour and gave birth to a daughter, Mary at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire.

She died shortly afterwards on 5 September 1548 and is buried in St Mary’s Gardens in the grounds of Sudeley Castle.

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