Once upon a time, a rather portly, ginger, crazy ol’ wife-killer, named Henry ruled England.
Now, Henry VIII was a naughty king and prone to doing exactly what he wanted, and what he wanted most was a son – and a wife who didn’t give him any hassle. In his quest for this goal Henry worked his way through six wives – whose fates can be summed up in this cheerful little ditty
Nope, it wasn’t easy being one of Henry’s wives and the even worse – if he took a fancy to you didn’t get a lot of choice in the matter. The best you could hope for was he’d quickly lose interest and divorce you.
So in case you want to know more about Ye Olde Henry VIII and his six wives (I’m a bit obsessed), which changed the history of the United Kingdom, here is
The Essential Guide For The Disinterested: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Wife No. 1 Catherine of Aragon (born 1485)– The Royal One
Henry and Catherine were married for 24 years – longer than the other five marriages put together.
Catherine, a Spanish Princess, was originally sent to England to marry Henry’s brother, Arthur. Five months after tying the knot, her husband died, aged just 15 (reaching your 20s in Tudor times was a major achievement)
Catherine was left in limbo – a widow aged 16, stuck in England and no sign of another marriage in the offing. Seven years passed before the solution arrived in the form of the death of the old King – Henry VII and the throne passing on to his son Henry VIII, who quickly decided it would be a good idea to marry his brother’s widow.
In the early days of their marriage, Henry and Catherine had a fantastic time – we’re talking 16th century Victoria and David Beckham. They looked great together, they partied and traveled and he gave her power to rule the country when he was off fighting wars and they had children…lots of them. Unfortunately only one survived – a lovely healthy GIRL – cue disappointed groans all around
When Henry was approaching 40 two things happened – he realised that Catherine, who was 6 years his senior, wouldn’t be providing him with a son and a certain dark-eyed beauty, Ms Anne Boleyn, caught his eye.
Henry decided that the way forward was a divorce. When he tried to explain to Catherine that she was past her sell-by-date and he was moving on, it didn’t go down too well – OBVS!
Catherine refused to divorce and rallied the support of her powerful family, including her nephew The Holy Roman Emperor – who didn’t take too kindly to Aunty Cathy being dumped. War was a possibility.
Henry got together a whole bunch of religious experts and lawyers to find him a way out of his marriage (we’re talking Brexit with knobs on). Eventually, they came up with some random old biblical quote that said something along the lines of …If you marry your brother’s widow you’ll never have children – which, in Henry’s narcissistic head, meant SONS.
Catherine put up a strong fight but eventually, the King got his divorce – and kick-started The Reformation in England – which saw the country split from Rome and the Catholic Church, the dissolution of mega-wealthy and powerful monasteries (Henry kept the money), and Henry being named England’s supreme spiritual leader – oh and a few people were beheaded along with way.
Catherine died aged 50 sad and alone (Henry would not allow her to see their daughter) and one her last actions was to ask Henry to visit. Seems like she loved the gouty old tyrant right to the end.
PAY ATTENTION AT THE BACK!
Wife No. 2 Anne Boleyn (born 1501) – The Scheming One
Anne Boleyn arrived at Henry’s court with a bang. She was from an ambitious English family and had just spent eight years at the French court completing her education, rubbing shoulders with the French aristocracy and generally learning how to be cool, attractive and sophisticated. We’re talking a 16th century Meghan Markle.
Henry, who’d already had an affair with Anne’s sister Mary (The Other Boleyn Girl) was infatuated – and offered Anne the opportunity to be his exclusive mistress. Anne wasn’t an affair type of gal – so she replied with a prompt Gee Thanks but No Thanks. My theory is she didn’t fancy him.
Henry, however, was like a bad case of verrucas – he just wouldn’t go away. He bombarded Anne with jewellery, love letters, sides of venison and promoted her family. Eventually, Anne said Ok Buster, if you want me that much then let’s get married and I’ll give you the sons you’re so desperate for. But – no sex before marriage…not a direct quote.
When they finally got married things got off to a good start. Anne immediately became pregnant had a lovely healthy baby…ermmm GIRL – cue another universal sigh of disappointment. The royal couple, however, put on a united front, but when Anne went on to lose three babies, Henry decided that Anne had bewitched him and started to look for a way out of this marriage. All this coincided with Henry becoming infatuated with another potential Baby Mamma (what a surprise!) – Jane Seymour.
Henry got his right-hand-man, Thomas Cromwell, to do a bit of digging – and a lit’l bit of torturing – and he came up with the storyline that Anne had been unfaithful with a handful of guys, including HER BROTHER. Blimey! There was a trial and everyone was found guilty, not surprising considering Henry, booked the services of the best head-chopper in the world, the day before the trial started. That’s what I call planning ahead.
And so it came to pass that at the age of 35, Anne parted company with her head.
Wife No. 3 Jane Seymour (born 1508) – The Boring One
Jane was the daughter of another powerful family who, when they heard the rumour that Henry might be in the market for wife No 3 – invited him to their family home (Wolf Hall, hence title the award-winning novel by Hilary Mantel) and told Jane to get herself a makeover, pronto.
Jane rather dull and pale – in those days she didn’t have the benefit of an eyelash tint – but whatever she did worked, for as soon as she was paraded in front of Old Greedy Guts he was hooked.
Jane must have known what she was getting into having seen how Henry dispensed with his first two wives but was quite happy to skip up the aisle with Henry within a couple of weeks of Anne Boleyn’s execution. Nice.
Jane did her duty and produced a healthy baby BOY…
She promptly died 12 days later, leaving Henry heartbroken.
Wife No. 4 Anne of Cleves (born 1515) – The ‘Ugly’ One
Henry might be heartbroken but that didn’t stop him looking for Wife No. 4 – after all what’s an Heir Without A Spare.
It was decided to make a strategic match with an influential foreign bride – the problem was there weren’t that many takers among European royalty – who all seemed keen to hang on to their head. Eventually, Henry sent Hans Holbein, his favourite painter on a trip to Europe to paint potential brides (think 16th century Tinder). Henry liked the look of Anne of Cleves and she had a powerful family who would be a strong ally – so he swiped right.
Anne made the long trip from Germany to England and when Henry paid a surprise visit to welcome her he was repulsed – apparently, she wore weird clothes, couldn’t speak English and smelled (I can’t imagine Henry was a total treat for the olfactory glands) – but it was too late to back out. They married but quickly but divorced 5 months later.
Anne dealt with the whole thing very pragmatically – agreeing to a quickie divorce, (well you would, wouldn’t you) and was awarded a huge pension, a nice house and a prominent place at court. Sweet.
Anne outlived Henry and all the other wives.
Wife No. 5 Katherine Howard (born 1523) – The Young One
Young Katherine Howard hadn’t a clue what she was letting herself in for. She’d had a difficult childhood – her mother died when she was young and she shunted off to a crazy foster home full of poor little rich girls and predatory guys.
When she was about 16, Henry, ignoring the 33 year age gap, took a liking to young Katherine, which seemed to please everyone – Henry felt rejuvenated, Katherine’s pushy family got more power, prestige and wealth and Katherine got lots of attention and jewellery and clothes and a big shiny crown.
Katherine was a bit naive and thought she had it sussed and could keep the king entertained and carry on a discreet affair with a young buck and Old Henry wouldn’t find out. WRONG!!
Before you could say could someone please sharpen that sword, a trial ensued, Katherine and her lover were found guilty of treason and the young queen was separated from her head at the tender age of 19.
Wife No 6 Catherine Parr (born 1512)– The Clever One
You’d think that Henry would sick of the sight of marzipan by now but oh no – off he went looking for Wife No 6.
He decided twice-widowed Catherine Parr would be the lucky lady. Despite the fact she was in love with someone else Catherine had no choice but to marry.
Catherine was well educated, fluent in 4 languages, and she wrote the first book published in English by a woman. She was no pushover and argued with Henry especially over religion and on one occasion annoyed him so much her ordered her arrest but she managed to sweet talk him out of it.
She was also a great step-mom to Henry’s offspring a bit of a Nurse Nancy to her old gouty hubby. I expect she breathed a huge sigh of relief when Henry VIII died in 1547, aged 55. Catherine quickly married her original love and had a baby daughter but died of complications a few days later.
Turns out Henry’s longed-for son Edward (from Jane Seymour) was a bit of a weakling and died at 15. The crown passed on to Henry’s daughter Mary (from Catherine of Aragon) who died five years later, without children. Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth (from Anne Boleyn) was then crowned and reigned for 45 years. Elizabeth I was considered one of England’s greatest monarchs ever (although she could be cruel and crazed at times, just like her dear old dad).
Seems like Henry was just not ready for Girl Power.
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