The monarch was famous for going through multiple wives and mistresses, but what actually happened to all of Henry VIII’s wives?
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King Henry VIII of England is quite possibly one of history’s most famous rulers, though not for his power as king. Henry VIII’s fame instead lies in the number of wives that he had; six in total, though only three of them were deemed legal in the eyes of the church. Henry VIII’s wives were equally as famous as their husband, mostly because of the gruesome end that a few of them met as they left him.
So, who were Henry VIII’s wives, and what happened to them?
1. Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon was Henry VIII’s first wife, and his longest marriage. After his brother died, Henry obtained a papal dispensation to marry his wife, Catherine, as he had been in love with her for some time. For 23 years, Henry and Catherine remained married and produced a daughter, named Mary.
Most scholars agree that Catherine of Aragon may have been the only one of Henry VIII’s wives that he really, truly loved. Several declarations given by him over the years professed undying love for her.
However, undying love proved to be not quite enough for Henry, because roughly twenty years after wedding Catherine of Aragon, he sought the Pope’s approval for an annulment. He pleaded his case with his advisor, Thomas More, and claimed that since his wife had previously been married to his brother, his marriage was invalid. When the Pope refused, Henry VIII began his own church, the Church of England.
While many believed that he truly felt his marriage was impure and invalid, there were those who believed that Henry VIII actually left Catherine, and the Catholic Church, at the behest of the woman he had been hoping to make his mistress – Anne Boleyn.
2. Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn became one of Henry VIII’s wives after her own sister had been tossed aside. Mary Boleyn had had an affair with the king during his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and had been dismissed after consummating their union.
Anne, hoping to avoid the same treatment as her sister, refused to become Henry VIII’s mistress, instead, telling him he had to court her and marry her to bed her. Being denied the object of his affections eventually drove Henry to break from the Catholic Church and begin his own.
Henry VIII appointed the Boleyn family’s chaplain as the head of his new church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and wed Anne in a secret service. As the Catholic Church began to revolt against Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn proved invaluable for the Church of England. As it was aligned with her family, and she was aligned with the king, the Church of England had no choice but to fall under Henry VIII’s command.
Despite being named Queen Consort of England, and bearing a daughter to Henry VIII, there was soon trouble in paradise. Anne’s inability to bear a son, a rightful male heir to the throne, proved to be her downfall. Henry VIII soon lost interest in her, divorced her, and despite very little evidence against her, beheaded her.
Today, Anne Boleyn is considered to be the most famous of Henry VIII’s wives, and one of the most influential players in the English Reformation.
3. Jane Seymour
After beheading his second wife, Henry VIII moved on to one of her ladies in waiting, Jane Seymour, marrying her just ten days after Anne’s execution. It is widely believed that Henry VIII made her his mistress while married to Anne and that she was a key player in her predecessor’s untimely execution.
The pair were married for a little over a year, before Jane gave birth to a son, the king’s third child, but his first male heir. Unfortunately, due to complications with the birth, Jane died twelve days after her son was born. Apparently, birthing his first male heir meant a lot to Henry, as it is said that his grief following her death was insurmountable.
Though she was the daughter of a knight, and therefore of lower social standing than many of Henry’s other consorts, Jane Seymour was the only one of Henry VIII’s wives to receive a proper Queen’s burial, laid to rest in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Upon Henry VII’s death, he was buried beside her.
4. Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves, a German princess, was the fourth of Henry VIII’s wives, and the shortest of all of his marriages. The pair were married for just six months, and according to Anne never consummated the marriage.
Despite being married to Henry VIII, she had a pre-existing marriage agreement with another English monarch, which Henry VIII claimed was grounds for an annulment. Surprisingly, Anne of Cleves agreed to the annulment and was given a generous annulment settlement as a reward.
For the duration of her life, which lasted longer than Henry’s, she lived in Hever Castle, the former residence of the Boleyn family. Though they were separated, Anne of Cleves maintained a close relationship with the king and his children. She was even given the name “The King’s Sister.”
5. Kathryn Howard
Kathryn Howard, was the fifth of Henry VIII’s wives, and the second to be beheaded – ironic, as the first to be beheaded, Anne Boleyn, was her first cousin. She was 16 at the time of their marriage, while her husband was 49.
Though their marriage was a year long, they produced no children, and she was eventually accused of treason, for committing adultery while married to Henry. Three months after being stripped of her title of queen, Henry had Kathryn beheaded.
6. Katherine Parr
The last of Henry VIII’s wives was Katherine Parr, and perhaps the most influential in making sure his lineage continued.
Katherine Parr became the restorer of his court, uniting his children, and making sure they presented to the world as a close-knit family. She was instrumental in his legitimate children’s educations and passed legislation that made his previously illegitimate children (through annulment or divorce) legitimate again.
Henry VIII trusted his last wife so much that when he went to war, he appointed her as his successor, naming her Queen Regent in the event of his death. When he did eventually die, at the age of 55, Katherine was allowed to keep her gowns and jewels and reside in one of his castles. She even kept the title of Dowager Queen as well.
Though she is known as one of Henry VIII’s wives, Katherine Parr has her own place in history as well. Having been married four times (Henry was her third husband), she became the most married queen of England.