Henry VIII, His Wives (and their demise!)

King Henry's Six Wives
Henry VIII’s Six Wives (taken from Fanpop)

Henry VIII was an all-around shocking, certainly groundbreaking (breaking being the operative word!), and thoroughly unforgettable king. Particularly notorious is his marital life—going through six wives. This month we’re launching our first ever London Street Fun Treasure Hunt. The Hunt is for about 50 kids (hailing from 40 nationalities, speaking 30 languages collectively!) from the upper school of EIFA International School in London’s Marylebone. One of the threads that ties our London Street Fun treasure hunt together is the story of Henry VIII, his wives – and their demise! So dig in and get ready for a regular Hello! Magazine, scandalous article that will answer some bonus questions for the street hunt.

Catherine of Aragon: Divorced

To set the stage—Henry was very concerned about having a male heir. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, wasn’t cutting it. She bore a daughter, Mary, who would later become the divisive Mary I of England. Catherine had borne him a son in 1514, but he died at 6 weeks. Catherine and Henry were married for 24 years, and part of his problem was that she, older than him, and eventually outgrew the possibility. But there was another, bigger problem—divorce was not allowed in the Catholic Church.

King Henry Jousting, Celebrating Birth of Son
‘Catherine of Aragon watching Henry jousting in her honor after giving birth to a son’ College of Arms, Westminster Tournament Roll. (taken from Wikipedia)
King Henry Sitting on Pope
‘King Henry VIII sitting with his feet upon Pope Clement VI, 1641’ from the book Acts and monuments of matters most specials and memorable, happening in the church, ect. (taken from Wikipedia)

Henry’s decision to break with Catholicism triggered Protestant-Catholic tensions in the region that would continue—often bloodily—for centuries. There’s obviously the male-heir motive, but, interestingly, shaking up the Catholic Church also freed up a huge amount of lands that were previously all held by the monasteries. And now, all this land (and wealth) went directly to Henry. Not a small detail in the English Reformation. But one for another article, as we want the salacious details of his wives.

Anne Boleyn: Beheaded

After ditching the Pope and divorcing Catherine of Aragon, Henry married Anne Boleyn. Anne was an intellectual and headstrong member of the royal revenue who had previously been his lover. She had a female child—Elizabeth—yes, that Elizabeth—but then struggled with miscarriages. Tragically, when Henry was in a bad jousting accident, Anne Boleyn miscarried a male child. Things went downhill from there. She got beheaded for treason. Henry did it brutally. Not only was she killed, but her brother was accused (on very shaky grounds) of incest and was also murdered, along with several other men. Charming.

Jane Seymour: Died

Jane Seymour was third. A former lady-in-waiting, Jane finally was able to do what Henry wanted—birthing a son that lived! Prince Edward. Tragically, she died as a result of childbirth. He passed an act declaring Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate heirs, to secure Edward’s succession.

Anne of Cleves: Divorced

Anne of Cleves was lucky. Unlike the other women, who were known to Henry before his marriage, he had to be convinced about this one—they even made a portrait to show him!

Anne of Cleves, Hans Holbein the Younger
‘Portrait of Anne of Cleves’ by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1539. This is the portrait they sent to Henry, for the bride he didn’t meet beforehand and was never quite sure about. (taken from Wikimedia)

It was more a foreign policy decision than anything else. Henry quickly annulled the marriage, something Anne was totally okay with. They definitely weren’t feeling it, but, luckily for Anne, she was treated better than the others. Rather than being kicked out of her chambers, Anne was given ample property, money, and an honorary title.

Catherine Howard: Beheaded

Next, Henry went for Catherine Howard, a girl significantly younger (having learned from his first, Catherine). Catherine was also a lady-in-waiting. This one was completely Henry’s choice, which seems not to be a good sign. She had had an affair previously with a man now on her staff. When that was being uncovered and getting ugly, the man betrayed her current affair (with another man). Henry, enraged, had them all killed. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.

Catherine Parr: Survived!

Finally (this is getting exhausting!), Henry married Catherine Parr. She held her own intellectually with Henry. Cathrine helped him work on his relationship with his estranged daughters, bringing Mary and Elizabeth back into the line of succession (behind Edward, of course). Most importantly, she survived Henry.

Henry VIII: Leaving His Mark

Young Henry, Hans Holbein the Younger
‘Portrait of Henry VIII’ by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1536-1537. (taken from Wikipedia)

Henry was larger-than-life, charismatic, extravagant, and a man of extremes. He could be extremely affectionate and generous, but also – obviously – brutal and unkind. The jousting accident (which luckily didn’t kill him as it had his French counterpart, Henri II) was a pretty big deal. Though scholars debate about exactly how, it’s widely thought to have contributed significantly to his decline in both physical and mental health. Like many notorious heads (Tiberius, Caligula, Nero), he deteriorated mentally over his reign, becoming increasingly paranoid and extreme at times. He is known for the obesity that he experienced in his later life. But for most of his life, Henry was a very athletic man. Love him or hate him (or fear him!), Henry certainly left his mark on history, and it’s hard to forget his outlandish story. 

London Street Fun Treasure Hunt

If you’ve read carefully, and you’ve committed his wives (& their demise!) to your memory you may just have a leg up on your competition (just like if you read our last blog post on Roman Numerals!). As you’ll surely be tested on it on our London Street Hunt! And in case this article hasn’t been enough, here’s a catchy song to help you remember the order of his wives’ demise: Divorced, Beheaded and Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.

‘Divorced, Beheaded, and Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’

-Horrible Histories

The way our ‘All Things Gaul’ treasure hunt celebrates works in the Louvre’s collection by Frenchmen (for example we’ve written on Marianne, the Covent Garden, dragon lady Queen of France Marie de Medici or another post on Who’s the King of Bastille Day!), our London Street Fun hunt is celebrating a collection of British Icons and Characters. Henry VIII tops the charts of being a ‘character’, wouldn’t you say?

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