A lot of us have been hearing stories about King Henry VIII since we were little. We’re taught that he led an extravagant lifestyle, that he was a fairly ruthless leader and that during his reign as king of England from 1509 until his death many historically significant religious, economic and political changes occurred.
But probably his most notable claim to fame is the string of six wives he had throughout his tenure as king, and we don’t hear too much about them. Who were these women who loved—and lost, some through gruesome and unjust means—the king?
We travel back to the Tudor court to witness important points in the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives.
1. Catherine of Aragon
Henry VIII’s first wife was Catherine of Aragon, daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Eight years before her marriage to Henry in 1509, Catherine was in fact married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who died of sickness at just 15 years old. Together, Henry and Catherine had a daughter, Mary – but it was a son that Henry wanted. Frustrated that Catherine seemed unable to produce a male heir to the throne, Henry had their marriage annulled (cancelled) in 1533. But there’s more to the story, gang – towards the end of their marriage, Henry fell in love with one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting (woman who assisted the queen) – Anne Boleyn…
2. Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn became Henry’s second wife after the pair married secretly in January 1533. By this time, Anne was pregnant with her first child to Henry, and by June 1533 she was crowned Queen of England. Together they had a daughter, Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth I. But, still, it was a son – and future king of England – that Henry wanted. Frustrated, he believed his marriage was cursed and that Anne was to blame. And so, he turned his affections to one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. And Anne’s fate? Following accusations of numerous crimes, including witchcraft and treason (plotting to kill the king), she was arrested and beheaded.
3. Jane Seymour
On 30 May 1535, King Henry married Jane Seymour. Unlike his previous wives, however, Jane never had a coronation and so was never crowned Queen of England. Some people believe this was because Henry wanted her to provide an heir to the throne first. And in October 1537, the time had finally come – Henry became the proud father of Prince Edward. But the prince came at a price – Jane took ill and died just two weeks after the birth. She was buried in a tomb at Windsor Castle, and would later become the only one of Henry’s six wives to be buried with him.
4. Anne of Cleves
Henry was single for two years after Jane Seymour’s death. But as time passed, the King and his ministers felt that England needed a foreign ally – and so the hunt for a new bride began! Henry sent a talented painter called Hans Holbein to Germany to paint portraits of the Duke of Cleves’ daughters, Anne and Amelia. Anne’s portrait pleased him, and arrangements were made for the pair to wed. But Anne’s arrival in England proved to be a bit of a disaster to say the least. Seeing her in person, Henry took an instant dislike to Anne and, finding her ugly, referred to her as “The Mare of Flanders”. Poor Anne! Too late to cancel, their wedding took place 6 January 1540, only for the marriage to be annulled a few weeks later.
5. Catherine Howard
Next in line to marry King Henry VIII was young Catherine Howard – lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves and first cousin to Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. By the time they married in July 1540, Henry was 49 years old, overweight and unable to walk, and Catherine a lively teenager. Delighted with his new wife, Henry is said to have spoilt Catherine with gifts and called her his “rose without a thorn”. But trouble lay ahead for Catherine – two years into their marriage, she was accused of being unfaithful to the king. Her fate..? Beheaded!
6. Catherine Parr
The last of Henry VIII wives was Catherine Parr. An educated woman who loved to learn new things, Catherine married Henry on 12 July 1543. She proved to be a kind wife who looked after Henry in his sickness, and a good stepmother to the king’s three children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. But yes – you guessed it – she didn’t have it easy with Henry! Her interest in Protestantism (a new religious faith) made her enemies in court – enemies who tried to turn the king against her and have her arrested. Luckily for Catherine, she managed to convince Henry that she was loyal to him and his religion, and was spared execution. Henry died in 1547, leaving Catherine widowed and free to marry her former love, Thomas Seymour.
(via National Geographic)