Divorced, Beheaded, Died: Henry VIII’s Six Wives

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Ruling over England from 1509-1547, King Henry VIII is one of the most infamous monarchs of all time. On a quest to secure political relationships, find love, and produce a healthy male heir, Henry VIII married a total of six women. Historians argue that as a result of his temper and determination to secure ties across Europe, Henry VIII’s tumultuous love life ended in various divorces, beheadings, and betrayals. 

We’ve investigated every one of the King’s six wives and compiled a list of everything you need to know about the women Henry was involved with. 

1. Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII's First Wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Catherine of Aragon
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Catherine of Aragon was Henry VIII’s first wife. Originally hailing from Spain, many don’t know that Catherine was actually married to Henry’s brother, Arthur, who passed away when he was only 15 years old. In her youth, Catherine was described as being ‘the most beautiful creature in the world’ with her fair complexion and large blue eyes.

The Queen actually had a total of 6 pregnancies, with two sons and a daughter being the only ones to survive birth. Sadly, both sons were named Henry Duke of Cornwall and died only a few months later. The only surviving child of Henry and Catherine was Mary, who later became Mary I of England. Henry divorced Catherine in 1533 and began a relationship with one of her own ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn.

2. Anne Boleyn

Henry VIII's Second Wife, Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Henry’s next wife, Anne Boleyn, was known throughout the palace for her beauty and grace. When the King was courting her, Henry wrote countless lover letters one of which included a gold bracelet that had a small portrait of himself embedded. Anne was known to love the finer things in life, particularly pearls and rubies. She is known to have worn a pearl necklace with a golden ‘B’ pendant attached, which can be seen in her portraits.

They wed in January of 1533, in a secret ceremony only witnessed by a few. It is believed that, by this point, Anne was already pregnant with their first child, Elizabeth. Again, Anne and Henry couldn’t have a son.

Subsequently, Henry accused Anne of a number of crimes including witchcraft and treason. Anne was then arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Whilst imprisoned she penned the poem, ‘O Death Rock me Asleep’ where she expresses how her impending execution will relieve her of the burdens of her life, as it explains ‘bring me on quiet rest’. Just before she was beheaded, legend has it that Anne Boleyn explained to a prison guard, ’I hear he’s [the executioner] quite good…and I have a very small neck’.

Following her execution, Henry then decided to court one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. 

3. Jane Seymour

Henry VIII's Third Wife, Jane Seymour
Jane Seymour
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Two years after his wedding to Anne Boleyn, Henry married the young Jane Seymour on the 30th May 1535. Unlike Anne and Catherine that had come before her, Henry never coronated Jane as the Queen of England. Many historians now believe that Jane never received a coronation because Henry only wanted to marry her to have a son. Finally, in 1537, Henry’s wishes came true and his son, Prince Edward, was born. Sadly, Jane suffered tremendously during the birth and contracted sepsis, she died only two weeks later from these complications. Jane was laid to rest at Windsor Castle with her epitaph famously reading, ‘Here lies Jane, a phoenix who died in giving another phoenix birth. Let her be mourned, for birds like these are rare indeed’. 

4. Anne of Cleves

Henry VIII's 4th Wife, Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Two years following the sudden death of Jane Seymour, Henry was eager to find another wife and this time one that could offer political ties and allies across Europe. Anne of Cleves was introduced to Henry by the King’s advisors. Hans Holbein famously painted a portrait of the young Anne and sent it to England for the King’s approval. Henry was impressed by what he saw but, upon seeing Anne, it was clear that Holbein had painted the princess in a very flattering light. Henry instantly disliked Anne and claimed that she was unattractive, famously calling her ‘The Mare of Flanders’. 

Even though their wedding did take place in 1540, it was very quickly annulled afterward and was never consummated. Interestingly, Anne’s brother Duke William suffered a similar fate when he married, Jeanne D’Albert. It is said that throughout their four-year-long marriage, it was never once consummated. 

Anne of Cleves was eventually buried at Westminster Abbey, the only wife of Henry’s to have been. 

5. Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's 5th Wife
Catherine Howard
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Catherine Howard was also the lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves and, even more shockingly, also happened to be a cousin of the late Anne Boleyn. Henry and Catherine got married in July 1540. Although, by this time Henry VIII was middle-aged and had grown unfit, overweight, and was riddled with gout. Catherine was a young and beautiful teenager with a zest for life that Henry was attracted to, he supposedly showered her with expensive jewelry and other gifts. Although in 1542, the King accused Catherine of adultery and had her beheaded much like her cousin, Anne, just a few years previously!

6. Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's 6th and final wife.
Catherine Parr
Credit: Ann Longmore-Etheridge // Public Domain

Catherine Parr was Henry’s last wife and they married just a year after Kathryn Howard’s execution in 1543. Much like Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Catherine Parr was a well-read woman that had an interest in academia and education. Historians agree that Catherine Parr may have been Henry’s ‘favorite’ wife and that he had a love and commitment for her that outweighed anyone else. Legend has it that Henry particularly liked the relationships Catherine was able to forge with his children Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Even though Catherine was a protestant, she still convinced Henry that she was loyal, committed, and ultimately worth staying in a relationship with. Catherine survived Henry following his death in 1547, after which she entered into a relationship with a previous lover, Thomas Seymour. 

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