Did You Know – The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Part 2

Joann Wolwowicz

We left off last week with King Henry VIII, after he beheaded his second wife, Anne Boleyn and was formally betrothed to Jane Seymour. On May 30, 1536, they were married, but unlike the previous two queens, Jane never officially had a coronation. It is said that this time around, the king was waiting to see if his third wife would prove herself by giving him a son. Jane did not become pregnant until early 1537, even though the king pushed for an early pregnancy in the marriage. During the pregnancy, Jane was indulged by the king, because he felt that she was his first “true wife” and that she carried his son. A prince was finally born in October of that year, at Hampton Court Palace and was christened Edward on October 15. Jane attended her son’s christening, although she was weak from child birth. She died on October 24, two weeks after her son was born. Henry had already been preparing his own tomb at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, which is where Jane was buried. She remains the only wife of the six to be buried with him.

Henry remained single for over two years after Jane’s death. It is thought that he genuinely mourned for her. However, Henry’s ministers began looking for a bride for their king that would help to secure an alliance to keep England from becoming too vulnerable. Hans Holbein, the most famous Tudor court painter, was sent to the court of the Duke of Cleves, who had two sisters: Amelia and Anne. England wanted an alliance with countries that had thrown off Papal authority. Hence, Henry decided to have a contract drawn up for his marriage to Anne. The marriage took place on January 6, 1540, but by then, Henry was already looking for ways to get out of the marriage. Henry did not find his new bride the least bit attractive, and he called her a horse. He soon became attracted to young Kathryn Howard. Anne was smart enough to know that she should not raise any obstacles to Henry’s attempts to annul the marriage. After the marriage was dissolved, Anne became known as the “King’s Sister” and was given Hever Castle.

Kathryn Howard was the first cousin to Anne Boleyn, but had been brought up in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. She came to court at the age of 19 as a lady in waiting to Anne of Cleves, but she caught Henry’s attentions. Sixteen days after he was free of Anne, Henry took his fifth wife on July 28, 1540. He was 49, and Kathryn was only 19. The vivacious young girl brought back some of Henry’s zest for life, after he had gained a lot of weight and was dealing with an ulcerated leg. However, less than a year into the marriage, rumors of the queen’s infidelity began. By November 1541, there was enough evidence to show the king that she had been promiscuous before her marriage and may have had liaisons after becoming Henry’s wife. She was executed on the Tower Green on February 13, 1542.

Katherine Parr was Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. She had been previously married to Edward Borough when she was 17 years old, but he died a few years later. She remarried John Neville, when she was 22 and he was 41. However, she became a widow in March 1543, at the age of 31. It was around this time that she caught the attention of the king. The king requested her hand, a request Katherine felt it was her duty to accept. They were married on July 12 at Hampton Court in a small ceremony. Katherine was close with all three of her stepchildren as Henry’s wife and was personally involved in the educational program of the younger two, Elizabeth and Edward. Henry VIII died in January 1547, leaving behind his sixth wife and three legitimate children. Edward VI became king. After his death, Henry’s first daughter, Mary I, became queen. Lastly, after Mary’s death, Elizabeth became Elizabeth I and ruled for the longest time of all three.

And so we conclude my two part series about my favorite time in history. Like I said, there is so much more to this time period, but I tried to focus on the most interesting part. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.