King Henry VIII was married more times than couples on reality dating shows. But despite being impotent, ailing, and increasingly unattractive in his later years, that didn’t stop him from trying to bag younger and younger wives.
Each of which has been rattled off in history as a mere footnote in the annals of mocking a King who kept marrying and marrying and marrying. But each was a pretty badass woman in her own regard. Even if their plans didn’t always work in their favor, these six knew how to play the Tudor game of houses.
King Henry VIII’s Wives In Order And How They Died
King Henry VIII’s wives in order are Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.
You may know them from the hit musical Six, or the old famous rhyme “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.”
King Henry VIII’s first marriage was also his longest. He married Catherine of Aragon in 1509 and he forced their divorce in 1533, with her dying 3 years later. Next, he married her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, also in 1533. She was beheaded for treason in 1536.
Henry’s next wife was Jane Seymour, who died from complications during childbirth in 1537 after a year of marriage. It’s said that Henry was deeply devastated by her death. But that didn’t stop him from moving on, of course.
Then, he was betrothed to Anne of Cleves, a German noble. The two didn’t meet until their wedding day, just like an old-timey version of Married at First Sight. And just like some on Married at First Sight, he felt like he didn’t get what he ordered. He soon declared that Anne of Cleves looked nothing like her portrait and that he’d been catfished. They divorced 4 days later.
Catherine Howard, who was, at most, 20 years old when they met, also had a short-lived marriage with Henry VIII. They married in 1540 and she was promptly beheaded 2 years later for her alleged affair with Thomas Culpeper.
Finally, Henry married Catherine Parr in 1543. She was to be his last wife. King Henry VIII died in 1547 and she outlived him by just over 1 year before dying in childbirth herself.
Henry VIII’s Children & Their Respective Mothers
One of the most well-known facts about King Henry VIII was how desperately he wanted a son to be his heir. Despite his lengthy marriage to Catherine of Aragon, they had only one surviving child, Mary Tudor, who became Queen Mary I of England. Sadly, every other pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, stillbirth, or, for the boy who survived his birth, a cot death at 52 days old.
Anne Boleyn did not give Henry VIII the child he so craved. But she did give him a child who became one of the greatest monarchs in world history – Queen Elizabeth I. Sadly, after Elizabeth’s birth she suffered multiple miscarriages and didn’t produce another heir.
Jane Seymour didn’t have the status of her two predecessors; but she was able to give King Henry VIII what they could not – a boy. She gave birth to the later King Edward VI on 12 October 1537, before dying two weeks later from complications.
Henry VIII’s last three marriages to Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr produced no additional heirs (although not for lack of trying on his part).
How Henry VIII Divorce from Catherine of Aragon Started the Reformation
First of all, what was the reformation?
The Reformation was the breaking of England from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. King Henry VIII created the Church of England and introduced the country to a new branch of Christianity sweeping through Europe – Protestantism.
After 27 years and multiple unsuccessful pregnancies, Henry VIII had grown tired of his wife’s inability to produce a male heir. Plus, her attractive, young, and surely fertile lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn was right there. She was also bold enough to refuse his advances without a marriage proposal.
Appealing to the Catholic Church, Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. When the Pope refused, Henry VIII threw a massive tantrum. He excommunicated the entire country and declared Protestantism to be the new religion. In doing so, he triggered the English Reformation, which meant he could effectively ignore the Pope’s decree, divorce Catherine of Aragon and take up with Anne Boleyn instead.
Thanks to thinking with an organ a lot further south than his brain, Henry VIII changed the course of Tudor England in a way that would reverberate across the next century and beyond.
Reportedly, Catherine never accepted his decision. She saw herself as the one true Queen of England, and was called Queen Catherine by her subordinates until she died.
Who was Anne Boleyn – a six-fingered witch?
Anne Boleyn has one of the most tumultuous lives of any female monarchs. Clever, pretty, and with King Henry VIII boldly wrapped around her finger, English history has not been kind to Anne Boleyn. She has been painted as an incestuous adulteress, a treasonous witch, and manipulative and cunning.
In reality, however, she was a young woman, with a very powerful man’s attention and used it well. That she was intelligent and bent the situation to her advantage, wouldn’t have even been sniffed at if she were a man of the same era.
Of course, Henry VIII’s smear campaign to discredit her and force her execution didn’t help matters.
Many rumors have sprung up about the life of Anne Boleyn. The most popular of which is that she was a six-fingered witch. These rumors were often fuelled by people who had never met the Queen personally and were part of a calculated discrediting by her opponents.
One that, luckily for Henry VIII, fed right into the narrative he was building of her treasonous and sexually active lifestyle.
Of course, much like the Salem Witch Trial victims, there is absolutely no real evidence Anne Boleyn was a witch. Or that she had six fingers, for that matter.
The Love Story of Jane Seymour and Henry VIII
Jane Seymour has long been considered King Henry VIII’s favorite wife and one true love. A big reason for this is that she is the wife that birthed him his long-desired heir – the later King Edward VI.
The other, is that Jane Seymour was the wife Henry VIII chose to be buried next to. Some believe this to be evidence of his true passion for her. Other historians argue he also deeply loved Anne Boleyn; before things all went to pot, of course.
Either way, King Henry VIII was deeply affected by Jane Seymour’s death. Much like his father, King Henry VII, who withdrew from public life after his wife’s death; Henry VIII retreated and refused to see anyone for some time.
Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII: BFFs
Despite their marriage not working out, Anne of Cleves and King Henry VIII formed a lifelong friendship. She readily agreed to the annulment (probably more of a blessing for her, than for him). In return, he bestowed her with plenty of money and a property.
Reportedly, she continued to have a good relationship with Henry’s subsequent wives, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr. She even called Henry “brother” which demonstrates how close, or faux-close, the two really were.
In many ways she was the most successful of King Henry VIII’s wives. Not least because she avoided spending any time married to him… or getting her head chopped off.
What happened to Catherine Parr?
Not long after Henry VIII’s death, Catherine married her previous lover, Thomas Seymour. The very own Jane Seymour’s brother. The Tudor court was a somewhat incestuous place.
It was Catherine Parr’s fourth marriage and the only one in which she became pregnant. Unfortunately for her, the birth led to complications and she died at Sudeley Castle, one year and 8 months after her former husband.