Did You Know – The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Part 1

Joann Wolwowicz

As promised, this week’s Did You Know segment will feature my favorite period in time: King Henry VIII. This is a topic that I can speak hours about and write pages on, but I promise not to bore you all with too many details. There are so many areas and directions I can go on King Henry, but for the purposes of keeping this article brief and entertaining, I’ll stick to the one major piece of historical fact that good old Henry is known for: his six wives. Yes, I know that he broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and made himself head of his own church all for a divorce, but today we’ll just skip all of that and get down to the reason King Henry has so many books, movies, and a television show all about him and his family.

The second monarch of the House of Tudor, Henry VIII ruled England from 1509 to 1547. Being the second son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Henry was expected to enter a life with the clergy, while it was expected of his older brother, Arthur, to take the throne when it became time. However, Arthur died at the age of 15, only 20 weeks after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. With Henry VIII now in line for the throne, his father promised his second son to Arthur’s widow, trying to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain. After a papal dispensation and 14 months later, Catherine was betrothed to Henry and married after he became king in 1509.  After about 15 years of marriage, one daughter, Mary, and no sons, Henry became impatient with Catherine’s inability to produce the heir he desired.

In 1925, Henry grew even more impatient, while becoming enamored with a charismatic young woman who was a part of the Queen’s household. This woman was named Anne Boleyn, and she was a woman that changed the course of England’s history. At first, Anne resisted the king’s attempts to seduce her, refusing to become his mistress as her sister had done. All of Henry VIII’s mistresses never amounted to anything, and any children were labeled illegitimate. Anne’s refusal made Henry even more attracted to her, making him pursue her relentlessly. Anne would not relent to his infatuation until she was acknowledged queen. It soon became the king’s desire to annul his marriage to Catherine. We all know where that story ended. Unable to gain an annulment, Henry broke from the church, divorced and banished Catherine, married Anne, and made himself the head of the church. However the marriage of Henry and Anne was nothing like a fairy-tale. After giving birth to a daughter, Elizabeth I, the couple’s happiness faltered. After a serious of miscarriages, one of which was a son, Henry saw Anne’s failure to give him a son as a betrayal and declared their marriage to be a product of witchcraft.

Five men, including Anne’s own brother were arrested on charges of incest and treason, accused of having sexual relationships with the queen. On May 2, 1536, Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was accused of adultery, incest, and high treason. Although the evidence was unconvincing, the accused were found guilty and condemned to death. The men were executed on May 17, 1536, and the queen was executed on Tower Green on May 19, 1536.  One day after Anne’s execution, Henry became engaged to Jane Seymour, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting to whom the king had been showing favor for some time. They were married ten days later.

Look forward to next week for the continuation of the six wives of Henry VIII. We will talk about his remaining four wives: Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.