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Elizabethan England
The Six Wives of King Henry VIII

by Allison Hendee, Jackie Williams,
and Karen Williams

To King Henry VII of England, a second son, Prince Henry,was born at the Greenwich Palace, London, on June 28, 1491. After Arthur, his older brother, died, Henry was left heir to the throne. He went on to become the most formidable and famous king who ever reigned in England. His handsome physical appearance&emdash; very tall with broad shoulders, strong athletic limbs, and fair skin&emdash; added to his popularity. Throughout his reign King Henry VIII was married six different times. He married for both political and formal reasons.

Henry married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in June, 1509. Anne Boleyn became his second wife in secret in January, 1533. Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife, provided him the much desired heir to the throne in October, 1537. Henry married Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, under political terms with Western Germany in 1540. Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was Anne of Cleves's maid of honor. She married Henry in 1540 also. Finally, Catherine Parr helped to bring his family together when they married in July, 1543. Catherine Parr outlived King Henry VIII when his glorious reign ended with his death on January 28, 1547.

Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was the widow of King Henry VIII's older brother, Arthur. Catherine was left widowed after a year of marriage when Arthur died in 1501. It was King Henry VII's dying wish for his son, Henry, to marry Catherine of Aragon. It was important for Henry to keep the alliance between England and Spain. Between the years 1510 and 1518, Catherine gave birth to six children, including two sons, but all except one daughter, Mary, were stillborn or died in early infancy. Catherine was unable to provide a male heir for King Henry VIII, which eventually led to the end of their marriage. Pope Clement VII refused to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine. Henry finally broke with the Roman Catholic church, and his new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cromwell, had their marriage annulled. Soon after, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, making the king head of the English church. Although Catherine was loved by the English people, she was forced to spend the last years of her life isolated from all public life.

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII. They were privately married in January 1533, but the marriage did not become known until Easter of that year. Anne Boleyn was the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth I, born in September of 1533. During their marriage Henry quickly lost interest in Anne and began to have affairs with other women. All Anne had to do to save their marriage was provide a male heir for the King. After two attempts she failed. Committed to the Tower of London, Anne was charged with adultery and alleged to have been involved in several affairs. On May 19, 1536, she was convicted by a unanimous vote and beheaded. According to many historians, it is very likely that Anne was innocent, but she was declared guilty because of a temporary court faction supported by Thomas Cromwell.

Jane Seymour, the mother of King Edward VI, was the third wife of King Henry VIII. Jane was the daughter of one of the King's knights. In Henry's attempts to win Jane, he sent her a love letter and a purse. Jane sent the letter and the purse back unopened with a touching message about her family's honor. The King promised to defend the honor, and they were married May 30, 1536. Jane was the first and only wife to provide King Henry VIII with a proper male heir. However, Jane was unable to recover from the birth and died twelve days later.

The fourth wife of King Henry was Anne of Cleves, a German princess. They were married for political reasons; in fact, Anne was chosen by Thomas Cromwell, the Lord Chancellor. This marriage was politically convenient, as Henry needed a strong political alliance with Lutheran Germany to establish ties between England and the other protestant countries so that England would not become totally isolated. Their marriage soon became a political embarrassment when the alliance between the Catholic powers failed. The marriage was annulled on July 9, 1540. Anne was rewarded with a large income as long as she remained in England and was given the title of "King's Sister."

Catherine Howard, one of ten children of Lord Edmund Howard, was Henry's fifth wife. Catherine had been a maid of honor in his previous marriage to Anne of Cleves. Henry's marriage to Anne was annulled on July 9, 1540, and he and Catherine were secretly married on July 28. Catherine had been previously engaged to her cousin, Thomas Culpepper. She was thought to have had affairs with him and two others&emdash; Henry Mannock, a music teacher, and Francis Dereham. In November 1541, the King learned of these supposed affairs and became irate. He allowed Parliament to pass a bill of attainder declaring it treason for an unchaste woman to marry the king. On February 14, 1542, two days after the bill was passed, Catherine was beheaded in the Tower of London for crimes of treason

Catherine Parr was King Henry VIII's sixth and last wife. They were married on July 12, 1543. Catherine was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr of Kendall, an official of the King's royal household. She had been married twice before her marriage to Henry, having been widowed first by Edward Borough, who died in 1529, and then in 1542 when her second husband, John Neville, Lord Latimer, died. Catherine was a highly educated and deeply religious woman. She had a great influence on the king as his reign ended. She brought the family close together and developed close friendships with Henry's three children. After Henry died in January 1547, Catherine remarried a former suitor, Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley. She died shortly after giving birth to a daughter in 1549.

See also "Henry VIII and His Six Wives"

Works Consulted

"Aragon, Catherine of." Encyclopedia Britannica. Vers. 6.0. CD-ROM. 1996.

This source tells about the first wife of King Henry VIII. There is information given on her family history. It also includes details of their relationship.

"Boleyn, Anne." Encyclopedia Britannica. Vers. 6.0. CD-ROM. 1996.

Details of the death of the second wife of King Henry VIII are given by this source. It also includes details about their relationship. There is information about why he broke his ties from the Roman Catholic church.

"Cleves, Anne of." Encyclopedia Britannica. Vers. 6.0. CD-ROM. 1996.

This is a summary about the fourth wife of King Henry VIII. It tells about her political ties through her family. It includes details about the annulment of their marriage.

Dwyer, Frank. Henry VIII. USA: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.

This book has great pictures and a time line. It is a great source for political details and information about struggles of the era. It includes in-depth details about Henry and his six wives.

"Howard, Catherine." Encyclopedia Britannica. Vers. 6.0. CD-ROM. 1996.

This source gives information about the fifth wife of Henry VIII. Details are given about her childhood in this summary. It includes details about their relationship and her beheading.

Malvern, Gladys. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Toronto: The Copp Clark Publishing Company, Ltd., 1972.

This book profiles each one of Henry VIII's wives. It goes into great detail about the relationships with each. It also gives many personality traits of each wife.

Morrison, N. Brysson. The Private Life of Henry VIII. New York: The Vanguard Press, Inc., 1964.

King Henry VIII's life is discussed in great detail on this book. It is a great source for facts. This source gives information about his affairs.

"Parr, Catherine." Encyclopedia Britannica. Vers. 6.0. CD-ROM. 1996.

This is a summary about the sixth wife of Henry VIII. It tells about her previous marriages. Also included is information on her beneficial influence on the king.

*Ridley, Jasper. Henry VIII. USA: R.R. Donnelley and Sons Co., 1964.

This book gives an interesting history on King Henry VIII. It is a great source for information. A York and Lancaster family tree is included in this source.

"Seymour, Jane." Encyclopedia Britannica. Vers. 6.0. CD-ROM. 1996.

This summary includes details about King Henry VIII's only son, provided by his third wife, Jane Seymour. Details about their relationship are given by this source. There is some family history revealed in the summary.

Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.

This book profiles King Henry VIII's struggle for an heir to his throne. His trials with the court and Church are also shown in this book. It also has a great time line.

Williams, Neville. Henry VIII and His Court. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1971.

This source is a depiction of everyday life, family and friends of King Henry VIII. There are many illustrations in color and black and white in this book. It is also a great source for details.

Woodward, G.W.O. King Henry VIII. Great Britain: Pitkin Pictorials, 1991.

The history of Henry VIII's life is given in this book. It explains the relationship with each wife. It gives his actions while being king.

*Woodward, G.W.O. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. London: Pitkin Pictorials, 1972.

There are great pictures included in this source. It also gives a great summary of Henry VIII's six wives. It is a great resource for facts.

*Source for visual


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