Who Were the Six Wives of Henry VIII?

King Henry VIII is one of the most famous English monarchs in history. He was known for his many wives and his tumultuous reign. But who were these six women, and what happened to them? In this blog post, we will explore the lives of each of Henry VIII’s wives and see what led to their downfall.

Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII’s first wife was Catherine of Aragon. She was a Spanish princess and the daughter of King Ferdinand II. She married Henry in 1509 after they met at the Field of Cloth of Gold. They had a happy marriage for many years and had six children together, but only one survived infancy.

Catherine of Aragon

Unfortunately, Catherine was unable to give Henry a male heir, which he desperately wanted. In 1527, Henry began having an affair with Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting.

He soon divorced Catherine on the grounds that their marriage was not valid because she had previously been married to his brother, Arthur, back in 1501, but the marriage only lasted six months when Arthur died.

However, when Henry approached the Pope to request a divorce, the Pope refused. This led to Henry’s break with the Catholic Church, which had a huge impact on English society and politics, and even still stands to this day.

During this breakaway, Henry established the Church of England. This quite literally redefined the meaning of divorce in England, and Henry was able to annul his marriage to Catherine. She was banished from court and died alone in 1536.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn was Henry’s second wife. She was a member of the English nobility and the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn. Anne became Henry’s mistress in 1526 and bore him a daughter,

Anne Boleyn

Of course, Henry was affiliated with Anne during his marriage to Catherine. Anne was one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting, which means she was constantly in the queen’s company.

It’s clear that Anne very much besotted Henry. He had spent a lot of time with and around her, and while she wasn’t the most beautiful woman, she was undoubtedly intelligent, funny, and exotic. All of this, of course, did not make Catherine happy.

However, when Henry and Catherine were divorced in 1533, Anne became pregnant with the future King Edward VI, and they married near enough instantly, and she was crowned the queen that summer on June 1st.

Anne was very popular among the English people because she was the first English queen in over 20 years. She brought new fashions from France, and she was very kind to the poor.

Unfortunately, Anne’s popularity did not last long. Henry became tired of her and began having an affair with Jane Seymour. What’s more, she wasn’t producing a male heir, which is what Henry and the public wanted. Due to high infant mortality rates at the time, while she may have been pregnant four or five times, she only gave birth to Elizabeth the 1st, who eventually became the Queen of England from 1558 until she died in 1603.

Nevertheless, Anne never produced a king and was, therefore, accused of adultery and treason by Henry. She was arrested and beheaded in May of that year.

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour was Henry’s third wife. She was of English nobility and the daughter of Sir John Seymour. Jane had served as a lady-in-waiting to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr, and she and Henry married just days after Anne was executed.

Jane Seymour

Henry became interested in Jane after the executions of Anne Boleyn and her supposed lovers. He began to send Jane love letters, which she responded to, and they married on May 30th, 1536.

Jane was the complete opposite of Anne Boleyn. She was shy, demure, and gentle. The people loved her for it because she represented a return to traditional values after Anne’s more modern reign.

Like Anne, Jane was also pregnant soon after their marriage. However, unlike Anne, Jane gave birth to a son, Edward VI, on October 12th, 1537.

Unfortunately, Jane died just two weeks later from postpartum complications. Henry was heartbroken and became a recluse for months afterward.

Edward, however, did become King of England after Henry died in January 1547, when he was crowned at the age of nine. Of course, a nine-year-old being a king is never a good idea, and instead, the regency reigned in his place until he was mature enough to lead himself.

This did not go well because the regents were constantly fighting for power, and Edward became very sick with tuberculosis. He died in July 1553 at the age of fifteen. Riots and civil unrest struck the country because they didn’t want another Catholic queen.

Since Edward was also raised as a Protestant, whereas Mary and Elizabeth were Catholic, he would have preferred one of his sisters to take the throne instead of Jane Grey, who was Protestant but not of royal blood.

The country was torn between Catholicism and Protestantism, which caused many problems. In order to try and fix this, Edward’s sister Mary I, who was next in line for the throne, married Philip II of Spain, a devout Catholic.

This made things worse because now the English were being ruled by a foreigner and someone who was clearly not interested in England or its people. The country was again wracked with riots and uprisings, but this is a story for another time!

Let’s rewind and head back to the wives!

Anne of Cleves

Henry’s fourth wife was Anne of Cleves, a German princess. They met when Henry saw a portrait of her and decided that she would be his next wife. HRP.org refers to this process as the equivalent of being a mail-order bride, but unfortunately for Anne, Henry rejected her from the moment he laid eyes on her.

Anne of Cleves

There were political reasons for this marriage too. Henry forming an alliance with the House of Cleves was designed to help him gain more power and control over Europe and needed a wife to bear him another male heir, almost as a back-up for Edward.

Yeah, things were pretty messed up back then!

Anyway, Henry married Anne of Cleves on January 06, 1540, but they never met before they married. What’s more, by the time Anne came to England, the political reasons for them marrying had basically evaporated, and so Henry was bitter towards her.

Thus, it was an unhappy marriage from the start, and Anne referred to Henry as a “man with two faces” because he could be so kind one moment and then cruel the next.

The two barely knew each other and had no feelings for one another, so it’s not surprising that they divorced just six months later, on July 9th, 1540. Anne was given a generous settlement and went on to live a long and happy life in England until her death in 1557.

Catherine Howard

Henry’s fifth wife was Catherine Howard, another member of the English nobility, and they met through Anne of Cleves. Catherine was very young at the time, only 19 years old, whereas Henry was 40 at this time. However, she was everything Henry wanted in a wife, being young and full of energy.

Catherine Howard

After Henry and Anne of Cleves parted ways, and after how awfully the process of choosing a wife via a portrait had turned out, Henry was determined to choose his wife for himself. So, in true Henry fashion, he chose his ex-wife’s lady-in-waiting.

They married on the 28th July 1540, just three weeks after the Anne of Cleves divorce had taken place.

There were plenty of challenges in this marriage. For example, Catherine was two years younger than Henry’s oldest daughter Mary, which made Catherine being a stepmother rather difficult. What’s more, Catherine was not as well-educated as Henry would have liked, and she also had a bit of a temper.

But, despite all this, things seemed to be going well for the first few years. Catherine gave birth to two children, a boy and a girl, but both died young.

Also, being young and in a court of lots of middle-aged men, Catherine was prone to the sexual advances of many men in positions of power, including Francis Dereham, Thomas Culpepper, a Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber, which Henry was away on royal business.

This led to her downfall. Henry found out about her infidelity and had her arrested, tried, and executed on the 13th of February, 1542.

Catherine Parr

Henry’s final wife was Catherine Parr, a widow who had previously been married twice. She was a Protestant and helped to nurse Henry back to health after he suffered an injury where he was knocked unconscious by a jousting lance.

Catherine Parr

Catherine was very kind and loving, which is probably why Henry took to her so well. They married on the 12th of July 1543, and she became stepmother to Henry’s three children: Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward.

She was also pregnant when they married but sadly miscarried.

Catherine was a huge support to Henry during the last years of his reign. She helped him with business matters, soothed his temper, and nursed him back to health on many occasions.

She remained by Henry’s side until his death on the 28th of January, 1547. After Henry’s death, she married Thomas Seymour, the uncle of Jane Grey, who would later be crowned queen for nine days.

Catherine outlived Henry by just over a year, dying on September 5th, 1548.

So, there you have it! The lives of King Henry VIII’s six wives. As you can see, things were a little different back in the day, and it’s crazy to think of what went down in the upper echelons of English society and the royal bloodlines and what people were like.

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