For full challenge click here.
Everyone studies Henry the eighth in school (well I’m sure they do in England at any rate), yet it is surprising how little I actually remember. I know he had six wives and they were:
However, I can never remember which wife was which and who met what fate. A couple of years ago a series started on the BBC about Henry the eighth and I started watching, expecting a more or less accurate account of his life – if slightly exaggerated and dramatised for TV audiences. Unfortunately, despite great acting and an interesting, well-written script, it just seemed to go on forever. I think the series is still running though I have no idea which wife they’re on at the moment. I stayed with it up until wife number 2 was beheaded but it was starting to drag. So for ec.cen.tric’s blogging challenge to write a report on a historical event or person I decided to clear up my hazy knowledge once and for all.
Although many well-known pictures present Henry VIII as a portly figure, he was a well-built athletic young man who enjoyed hunting and jousting. I believe it was only later on in life he succumbed to his wealthy life style and, for lack of a better expression, pigged out. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon had been married to Henry’s older brother for a short while until his death; however, she claimed the marriage had never been consummated. Due to her previous marriage there was a lot of drama and the pope had to be consulted as to whether it was proper for Henry to take on his brothers’ widow. Although this was finally resolved Henry was slow in completing the long-awaited marriage and they were only united after Henry became King in 1509. A couple of years later a son was born, who died only two months later. In order to console himself Henry went to war in France (surely there were easy ways to get over it? Must be a man thing).
Catherine miscarried another child and had a son who died soon after birth before giving Henry a daughter, Mary, who lived. For Henry this wasn’t good enough, he needed a male heir. Looking for religious reasons that declared if a man takes his brothers’ wife they shall remain childless (at this point Catherine was too old to conceive). He petitioned the pope for an annulment, however Catherine wouldn’t go without a fight and appealed. The ensuing political and legal debate lasted six years until Anne Boleyn became pregnant in 1532. Henry’s solution to his problem was to reject the pope’s power and have Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, grant his annulment. Catherine thus became the Princess Dowager of Wales and was separated from her daughter as she was forced to leave court.
Evidently the ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ is an old attitude since history tells us Anne Boleyn denied Henry any sexual favours until around 1532, after which her pregnancy caused the King to rush into action. The couple married secretly since Henry’s first marriage had yet to be dissolved, however in his mind it never existed. The Archbishop declared Catherine and Henry’s marriage to be invalid in May of 1533. Anne was pronounced Queen in an elaborate ceremony and preparations were made for the birth of her child, with everyone assuming it to be a boy. In September of 1533 Anne gave birth to Princess Elizabeth. She later lost two more children as either miscarriages or still births and quickly realised her life depended on producing a male heir.
Anne’s enemies at court started to plot against her, using the Kings liking for Jane Seymour as a catalyst. Cromwell convinced the King to authorise an investigation which eventually saw the arrest of a Musician friend of the Queens, her own brother and Lord Rochford. There were a few other arrests and at least four men were charged with treason and were hung, drawn and quartered. Queen Anne was placed on trial with her brother on charges of adultery, incest and plotting to kill the King. Both were executed, as were the others whose gory deaths were downgraded to a mere execution. The marriage between Anne and the King was declared invalid and the question of how she could have committed adultery considering they hadn’t technically been married was ignored, as was all other evidence in defence of Anne Boleyn.
King Henry would have met Jane Seymour in 1535 when he stayed with her family but it wasn’t until 1536 that he began to develop feelings for her. There are debates as to whether Jane realised she was being used by her family or whether she merely formed a mask to hide her fear at being the Kings latest object of desire. It is not evident how she really felt, although she did play her role perfectly and actively sought out the Kings affections even in front of Anne whilst she was alive. Within 24 hours of Anne’s execution Henry and Jane were formally engaged and were married soon after. Jane never received a coronation; it is wondered if Henry wished for her to give him a son first. Jane fell pregnant in 1537 and was doted upon by the King who considered her to be his one and only ‘true’ wife. She gave birth to a baby boy who was christened Edward; Henry’s two daughters played a role in the ceremony. Unfortunately Jane died only two weeks after the birth and was buried in Henry’s tomb as he had been preparing it at the time; she became the only one of Henry’s six wives to be buried with him.
Henry remained single for two years after Jane’s death giving the impression he really did mourn for her, however, it has also be suggested Cromwell began to search for a foreign bride for the King shortly after Jane’s death. Henry sent painters to bring images of the women who were considered great matches for an alliance. In 1539 Hans Holbein, a Tudor painter, was sent to the court of the Duke of Cleves, who had two sisters. The family was seen as an important ally. Henry decided to draw up a contract between him and Anne of Cleves, however, due to political and personal reasons Henry was already looking for a way out before the marriage even took place in January of 1540. It is said Henry did not find her to be attractive and had taken a liking to Kathryn Howard, also Anne was not suited to life in an English court. Her life in Cleves focused on domestic skills and not the music and literature so favoured in Henry’s court. Anne was smart enough to realise nothing good would come of protesting against an annulment so she declared the marriage had never been consummated and that her previous engagement hadn’t been properly broken. She accepted the honorary title of the Kings sister in July 1540 and was given the former home of Anne Boleyn, Hever Castle.
Kathryn Howard caught the Kings attentions when she came to court at age 19 as Anne of Cleves lady in waiting. She was a lively spirited young girl and it is believed her Uncle encouraged her to respond to the King so he could increase his own influence. Sixteen days after he was separated from Anne, Henry married Kathryn. By this time Henry was 49 and gaining in weight, Kathryn brought back his lust for life. A year after their marriage rumours of her infidelity began; eventually the Archbishop had enough evidence to present to the King. At first he didn’t believe the accusations but allowed for an investigation, evidence came to light that she had probably been promiscuous before and after her wedding. She was executed in 1542 and buried next to Anne Boleyn, her first cousin.
Katherine Parr’s mother was in court at the beginning of Henry’s reign and named her daughter after Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Katherine Parr’s first husband died only a few years after they married. She married again and became a step-mother for the first time, her second husband died when she was 31 in 1543. It was around this time that the King noticed her, along with Thomas Seymour, Jane Seymour’s brother. Although Katherine expressed a desire to marry Thomas she felt it was her duty to accept the Kings hand, they were married in July 1543.
Katherine supported the reformed faith, giving her many enemies from the Conservative side of Henry’s court. In 1546 there was a plot to get rid of her and enough evidence was gathered to issue an arrest warrant. By sheer luck the warrant was dropped and consequently picked up by someone loyal to the Queen. Katherine, having learnt of the warrant, claimed to be very ill. This may have been caused by fear or as a stalling tactic. When Henry approached her and chastised her she played up to his ego and was thus forgiven.
Katherine was close to all three of her step-children and organised the education of the two youngest, Elizabeth and Edward. Henry died in January 1547 and Katherine probably expected to have some role in the nine-year-old King Edwards regency, however this did not happen. Soon after Henry’s death Katherine secretly married Thomas Seymour which subsequently caused a scandal. Katherine fell pregnant at the age of 36 and gave birth to a daughter, Mary in August 1548. Unfortunately Katherine became very ill and died of puerperal fever in September of the same year.
So, there we go. Henry’s six wives in brief. I wonder why any of them married him, especially after the beheading of Anne Boleyn, who really didn’t actually do anything wrong, it was all fabricated. I hope now you can all think of Henry VIII as an athletic, if fickle, young man rather than the fat King he is most commonly portrayed as.