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Reflecting on History: The Lives of Henry VIII’s Wives

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  • Most of us know who Henry VIII is, but what many people don’t know about is the lives of his six wives. Henry VIII was a former king of England who was born in 1491 and died in 1547. Throughout the 55 years of his life, Henry had six wives, many of their lives overlapping with one another. Let’s talk about the lives of each one, noting their important historical roles.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon was Henry’s first wife. They were married for 24 years. Catherine originally came to England from Spain to marry Henry’s brother, Arthur. However, Arthur died soon after they were married. After Arthur died, Catherine was arranged to marry Henry. They tried for an heir, but the only baby that survived was Mary, a girl. After Henry started to get bored of Catherine and her inability to produce a future king, he tried to get a divorce using the reasoning that the Bible says you shouldn’t marry your brother’s wife. Henry was successful in divorcing Catherine on this basis; many knew that at the time, he used this excuse so he could be with his mistress at the time, Anne Boleyn. 

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn, who started off as a mistress, eventually became Henry’s second wife after seven years of waiting. Anne gave birth to Henry’s 2nd daughter, Elizabeth, who eventually became one of the best queens in history. After three years of marriage, Henry became interested in Jane Seymour and accused Anne of treason. Anne was beheaded for treason on May 19, 1536, at Tower Green. We actually don’t know what Anne really looks like because Henry VIII and Jane Seymour destroyed all evidence of her existence after her execution. 

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour was his third wife and allegedly his favorite. Henry married Jane just 11 days after the death of Anne Boleyn. Although they were only married for 17 months, Henry was buried next to Jane when he died. He loved her because she was the only wife who gave him his son, Edward VI, who later died at 15 years old. Jane’s labor lasted 2 days and 3 nights. After the christening, Jane became very ill. She later died on October 24, 1537 at Hampton Court Palace. 

Anne of Cleves

After Jane Seymour’s death, Henry waited 3 years before finding another wife. For his next wife, Anne of Cleves, he traveled to Germany. He chose her because he saw her portrait and thought she was beautiful. When Anne came to England, Henry dressed as a commoner and tried to kiss Anne. This caused Anne to freak out, which offended Henry. He tried to stop the marriage and spread a rumor that Anne was ugly. They were married for 6 months until Henry managed to get a divorce. Anne was moved into Hever Castle and lived her best life there. She actually outlived Henry and all of his wives. 

Katherine Howard 

In March 1539, Katherine Howard’s father secured her a position working for Anne of Cleves. She caught Henry’s eye and he became interested in her. Katherine was between 15 and 17 when she met Henry. They were married a year later in 1540. Just like all of his past wives, Henry grew tired of Katherine. She didn’t give him any children and he was ready to move on. He accused her of treason just like he did to Anne Boleyn, and she was beheaded in 1542 in the Tower of London. Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was actually longer than Katherine Howard’s whole life. 

Catherine Parr

When Henry was running out of women to marry, he asked Catherine Parr. Catherine was in love with Thomas Seymour at the time, but she said yes to Henry because she thought it was the best option for her. Their 5 years of marriage was going well until Catherine was actually almost executed for religious reasons. She pushed her religious views on Henry. Before Henry could decide her fate, he died in 1547. Catherine Parr outlived him by a year and 8 months. 

Queen Relationships/Connections

Henry’s six wives were all related in some way. Almost all of them were ladies in waiting for one another, and some even related by blood. Anne Boleyn was a lady in waiting for Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour was a lady in waiting for Anne Boleyn, and Katherine Howard was a lady in waiting for Anne of Cleves. Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard were actually really close, as they danced together often and played cards. The two beheaded wives, Katherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, were first cousins. 

Who was the best queen?

There is lots of controversy over this topic. Of course, everyone has their favorites, but most think Catherine of Aragon was the people’s real queen. My opinion in this matter is that none of them are the best. They are all great women and all endured a lot with Henry. Obviously some went through worse, but Henry treated them all horribly and they all deserved better and they were all great queens.

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