Henry VIII is perhaps most famous for marrying six times. Today’s blog post explores these wives and why he married them.
His first wife was Catherine of Aragon. Before his father’s death the two were betrothed and it was said the two loved each other (something which didn’t always happen in the days of arranged marriages). Marrying Catherine was politically advantageous as it formed a union between England and Spain useful for defence. In 1533 after 24 years of marriage, Henry divorced Catherine of Aragon. He was convinced that her failure to give him a male heir was because he had disobeyed God by marrying his brother’s wife which God commanded him not to do in Leviticus chapter 18:16. However she was stubborn to the last continuing to sign her letters as ‘the queen of England’.
Anne Boleyn was one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting and refused to be his mistress, she wanted to be queen. Henry fell in love with her and before their marriage they had an affair and she told him she was pregnant. They were secretly married so that the child she was bearing, hopefully a son, would be legitimate. However that child was Elizabeth. Anne Boleyn was the first wife he sent to the chopping block. Her extra finger and the moles on her body were physical proof to Henry that she was a witch and had bewitched him into falling in love with her. There was further evidence of this when after her death hares were said to have run through country lanes – the exact events expected at the time of a witch’s death.
Jane Seymour was his third wife and a lady-in-waiting to both Catherine and Anne. He courted her and they were eventually were betrothed on the day after Anne’s death. She gave him a long awaited heir which was the reason he married her. Jane Seymour made Henry extremely happy by giving him a son and a male heir but succumbed to childbirth fever and died several days later reducing Henry’s chances of having another heir.
Anne of Cleves was married to Henry for political reasons. She was the sister of a Protestant German duke. The aim of this fourth marriage was to form an alliance between two Protestant countries. Hans Holbein’s portrait painted her as an attractive woman which he fell in love with. Anne of Cleves was the woman to whom Henry was married to for the shortest amount of time. In Henry’s opinion Hans Holbein’s portrait of Anne greatly deceptive. She was painted as a great beauty yet when she arrived in England to marry him she was fat and pockmarked. She agreed to a divorce soon after the marriage and was given the honour of being called the king’s sister.
Katherine Howard like her cousin Anne Boleyn before her was extremely pretty. When Henry married her as a nineteen year old girl, she was “a rose without a thorn”. Katherine Howard once appeared to be perfect in Henry’s eyes. She was beautiful and had no visible flaws. But before and while she was married to Henry, she committed adultery, a sin worthy of death in the sixteenth century. Henry chose to have her beheaded for her crimes.
Katherine Parr was Henry’s last wife and was quite intelligent. Like Catherine of Aragon she had been previously married. She played a role as a nurse in taking care of Henry in his old age and letting the ulcers on my legs. Katherine Parr was his last wife surviving him by several years. However she became pregnant after marrying Thomas Seymour, her lover before Henry and uncle to Edward, his son, and died of childbirth fever after giving birth to a daughter, Mary Seymour.