The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

    Looking back at herstory

    A deep dive into the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII

    Henry VIII ascended to the throne of England in 1509 at the age of 17, following the death of his father, Henry VII. While his accession brought great hopes for the future of England at the time, it was his tumultuous matrimonial life that would ultimately define his reign. Over 38 years, Henry VIII married six times, each wife playing a significant role in shaping the course of English history. 

    The six women that Henry VIII married were more than just his wives. They each led their own lives and are much more than the “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” rhyme that is used to remember them on a history test. 

    Catherine of Aragon: The Faithful Queen (Marriage: 1509 – 1533)

    Catherine of Aragon was the youngest child of the powerful Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. When she was 16, Catherine was shipped to England to marry Henry’s older brother, Arthur. However, their union was short-lived as Arthur died six months later in 1502 from what is believed to be “the sweating sickness.” 

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    Now a grieving widow at the age of 16, Catherine was left to mourn. However, King Henry VII was keen to keep the Spanish princess around seeing that he wished to keep her dowry. So, just over one year after Arthur’s death, Catherine was betrothed to Prince Henry, who was too young to marry at the time. 

    In 1505, Henry was finally old enough to wed, but his father was less particular to the idea of the marriage now. Catherine was left — sometimes fending for herself — in England, uncertain of her fate for the next four years.

    When Henry VII died in 1509 and Henry VIII was crowned the King of England, one of his first acts was to marry Catherine. On June 24, 1509, 23-year-old Catherine was crowned Queen of England alongside Henry VIII. 

    During the 24 years of her marriage, Catherine gave birth to six children, but only one daughter, Mary, survived. Growing frustrated by the lack of a male heir, Henry VIII slowly began separating from Catherine, meeting with multiple mistresses throughout the last part of their marriage. His two known mistresses were Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn.

    In 1526, the lives of Henry’s first and (impending) second wives began to entangle, when the king fell in love with one of Catherine’s ladies, Anne Boleyn. When his relationship with Anne became more public, Catherine was already 42 years old and was no longer able to provide Henry with a son, which was the king’s greatest desire. 

    Soon, Henry began looking to religion for answers and read from the texts of Leviticus, which told him that if a man took his brother’s wife, they were sure to remain childless. Even though Henry and Catherine already shared a daughter, she might as well have not existed to the king. It was not long before Henry petitioned the Pope for an annulment from his marriage with Catherine. 

    Catherine was kept in the dark for a long time but was blatantly upset when she learned of Henry’s wishes. Speaking up for herself, the queen appealed directly to the Pope. For six years, Catherine had argued that she and Arthur, Henry VII’s brother, had never consummated their marriage — meaning they had never truly been married. She fought for not only herself, but also for her marriage to Henry and for Mary as well. 

    In 1533, Anne Boleyn became pregnant, pushing Henry to act fast to claim the child as legitimate. In a bold power move, the king ignored the power of the Pope and had Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, grant his and Catherine’s annulment. 

    Though Catherine never wished for the divorce, she was no longer the Queen of England and would be known from that point forward as the Princess Dowager of Wales. This title was one that she refused to acknowledge throughout the rest of her life. 

    Over the next three years, she and her daughter were separated and had to leave court. Catherine was forced to live in unhealthy castles and manors with a minimal amount of servants. However dismal her life had ultimately turned out, Catherine hardly complained about her position and spent much of her time in prayer. 

    On Jan. 7, 1536, Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle at the age of 50. Despite being cast aside by Henry, she remained the true queen in the hearts of many of England’s subjects until her death. 

    Anne Boleyn: The Ambitious Queen (Marriage: 1533 – 1536) 

    Little is known about Anne Boelyn’s upbringing, despite having played such an important role in English history. She is believed to have been born around 1500 or 1501, but other historians have marked Anne’s birth as 1507 and even as late as 1509. 

    Part of her childhood was spent at the court of Archduchess Margaret in France. Afterward, she was transferred to Mary Tudor’s, Henry VIII’s sister’s, household. Anne’s sister, Mary, was already in Mary’s attendance. The sisters served together until Louis XII of France died. For the better part of a decade, Anne returned to England with Mary Tudor. 

    Between 1521 and 1522, while Anne’s marriage was being decided, she was sent to court to attend to Queen Catherine. When her marriage fell through, Anne began an affair with Henry Percy, a rich English nobleman. The relationship was put to a stop by Cardinal Wolsey, supposedly at the request of Henry himself, who might have begun to fancy Anne at that point. 

    Additionally, Anne also had a relationship with the poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and although the timing of the affair is unknown, Wyatt was officially married to another woman named Elizabeth Brooke in 1520. The timing surrounding when Henry VIII first noticed and took a liking to Anne is also unknown, but it is likely that he first sought to make Anne his mistress, as he had with her sister Mary before. 

    The court assumed that Anne would only be another one of Henry’s mistresses, but when Henry began to seek annulment from his marriage to Catherine, it became clear that their relationship was something more. 

    Anne was famous for her temper and tongue, becoming known for her arguments between her and Henry. What frustrated Anne greatly was the slow progress of Henry’s annulment. She feared that Henry might go back to Catherine if the annulment was denied. The people of England were not fond of Anne and were deeply upset by the prospect of Catherine, whom they called their true queen, being stripped of her title. 

    Towards the end of 1532, Anne revealed that she was pregnant. In a race to prove that the child was legitimate, Henry secretly married Anne in 1533. Despite his marriage to Catherine still being legal, the King deeply believed that it had never existed, due to Catherine having been wed to his brother. On May 23, 1533, the Archbishop officially announced that Henry and Catherine’s marriage had been invalid all along. Anne and Henry’s union also led to the English Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England. 

    Anne was crowned Queen in June 1532 and in August, she prepared to give birth. Almost all were certain that the child was to be a boy. On Sept. 7, 1533, Princess Elizabeth was born. Anne knew how impatient Henry was for a son and by January of the following year, she was pregnant again but lost the child. 

    At this point, Anne knew that she was losing Henry’s attention, especially since he began to desire one of her ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. Throughout her time at court, Anne had made many enemies, some of whom were playing to get rid of her. One of these potential enemies, Thomas Cromwell, eventually persuaded the King to sign a document that would allow for an investigation of Anne for possible treason. 

    Between April 30, 1536, and May 2, 1536, Mark Smeaton (a friend of Anne’s and a musician), Sir Henry Norries, George Boleyn, Anne’s brother, and Anne herself were arrested. Under confinement, Anne was charged with adultery, incest, and plotting to murder King Henry VIII. She was taken to the Tower of London and was held as more arrests, those of Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton, were made for adultery with the Queen. Sir Thomas Wyatt was also arrested but was soon let go. 

    All men, except George Boleyn, were put on trial, without the ability to defend themselves, and were sentenced to death. On May 15, Anne and George attended their trial- where evidence was scarce, but both were found guilty. Five days later, George was executed on Tower Hill. Before her execution, Anne learned that Henry had sent for an expert swordsman, allowing for a “cleaner” blow than what would be made with an axe. 

    Early on May 19, Anne was taken to her execution. There, she made a short speech before kneeling and removing her headdress. Her ladies blindfolded her eyes and with one swift stroke, the swordsman cut her head off. 

    Jane Seymour: The Beloved Queen (Marriage: 1536 – 1537) 

    Jane Seymour is believed to have been born in 1508 or 1509. She served as a lady-in-waiting for both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. The King took first notice of her when he stayed at the Seymour’s home in Wiltshire England in 1535. It was not until 1536 that evidence of his desires for Jane appeared, though. As his marriage with Anne was seemingly coming to an end at this time, he likely wanted Jane as his next queen. 

    Though Jane’s feelings for the King will never be known, it was obvious that Henry was quite fond of her. Within 24 hours of Anne Boelyn’s execution, Jane and Henry became formally betrothed. On May 30, 1536, they were married, but unlike Catherine and Anne, Jane never had a coronation. 

    Jane became pregnant in early 1537 and during this time, the King became enchanted by her, convinced that she was his “true wife,” because she was going to give him a son. In October, Prince Edward was born. Jane survived long enough after her son’s birth to see his christening and bless the child. But soon after, she fell very ill and died on Oct.r 24, 1537, two weeks after giving birth. 

    She was laid to rest at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and was the only one of Henry’s six wives to be buried with him. 

    Anna (Anne) of Cleves: The Fortunate Queen (Marriage: 1540)

    For two years after Jane’s death, Henry remained single, a possible sign that he had genuinely loved her and missed her dearly. However, someone — possibly Thomas Cromwell — began searching for a potential foreign bride for Henry. 

    The King knew that he wanted a desirable bride and sent Hans Holbein, the most famous Tudor court painter of all time, to the court of the Duke of Cleves. There, Holbein was tasked with painting Amelia and Anna, the Duke’s two sisters. 

    Anna, who was 24 at the time of the painting in 1539, would have been seen as an important asset at the time, as England was searching for alliances with countries in favor of the reformation of the church. When Henry saw Holbein’s portrait of Anna, he drew up a contract of marriage. 

    As soon as Henry married Anna on Jan. 6, 1540, he was determined to get out of the marriage. The German princess was ill-suited for the English court life and Henry found his new bride unattractive and undesirable. During this time, he found an attraction for the young Katheryn Howard. 

    Probably knowing that Henry could do terrible things to her and her family if she tried to stop Henry from annulling the marriage, Anna testified to the court that she and Henry had never consummated the marriage. She also claimed that a previous engagement had never been properly broken. 

    Just as soon as the marriage had begun, it was over. In July 1540, the marriage was officially annulled and Anna accepted the honorary title of “King’s Sister.” She was gifted property and money. She lived a quiet life until her death at the age of 41 in 1557. 

    Katheryn Howard: The Ill-Fated Queen (Marriage: 1540 – 1542) 

    Katheryn Howard was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and a first cousin to Anne Boleyn. She was brought up in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. During her childhood, the future queen was taken advantage of by multiple men.     

    Katheryn might have been as young as 12 when Henry Manox, her music teacher, took sexual advantage of her. The Dowager Duchess found the two embracing and struck Katheryn, but later admitted to being at fault herself for not protecting Katheryn as well as she should have. When she was around 14 years old, Katheryn became sexually involved with Francis Dereham, who was the recently appointed secretary of the Dowager Duchess. 

    Katheryn first came to Tudor Court as a lady-in-waiting for Anna of Cleves. This is when it is assumed that the young woman caught Henry’s attention. It is believed that Katheryn’s uncle, Thomas Howard, encouraged her to respond to Henry’s desires, most likely seeing it as a way to influence the king. 

    Only July 28, 1540, just a little over two weeks after his divorce from Anna, Henry married Katheryn Howard, making her his fifth wife. Although her exact age was never known, it is widely accepted that she was 17 when she was married to King Henry, who was then 49 years old.

    Not much about their odd relationship can be said, but Katheryn, still full of youth, was able to help lift the King’s broken spirits. Henry even called Katheryn his “rose without a thorn.”

    Less than one year into the marriage, rumors of Katheryn’s infidelity began to circle the court. By late 1541, enough evidence had been collected against the Queen that the Archbishop took it upon himself to inform Henry of what was going on. Henry failed to believe the rumors at first but allowed for further investigation. 

    More evidence was gathered, this time some pointing to signs that Katheryn had been unfaithful before her marriage. Furious, Katheryn was found guilty of adultery and was executed on the Tower Green on Feb. 13, 1542. She was laid to rest near Anne Boelyn around the young age of 19, her life having been ripped away by King Henry. 

    Katherine Parr: The Queen Who Survived (Marriage: 1543 – 1547)

    Katherine Parr was born in 1512 and was the oldest daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and his wife, Maud Green, both of whom served at Henry VIII’s court. Maud had been a lady-in-waiting for Queen Catherine of Aragon and named her daughter after the beloved queen. 

    Katherine was married two times before Henry. The first marriage was to Edward Borough when she was just 17 years old. After Edward died a few short years later, assumingly in 1533, Katherine married John Neville in 1534. Neville died in 1543, leaving Katherine to be a widow for a second time, now at the age of 31. 

    Soon after Neville’s death, Katherine caught the eye of both the King and Thomas Seymour, Jane Seymour’s brother. Katherine did express her desire to marry Thomas, but Katherine felt that it was her duty to marry King Henry, if that was his wish. 

    On June 12, 1543, Katherine and Henry wed, making Katherine Parr the king’s sixth and final wife. During her time as queen, Katherine supported the reformed faith, earning many enemies. Katherine and her ladies-in-waiting also had banned books, which could easily get someone charged and executed for hearsay.

    Some people did try to make a case against the Queen, but they ultimately failed due to the fact that when someone loyal to the Queen saw the warrant, it had accidentally been dropped and brought it to her attention. 

    Katherine was also an advocate and patron for the arts and music and women’s rights and education. In 1545, her book, “Prayers or Meditations” became the first book published by an English Queen under her own name. She published a second book after Henry VIII’s death. 

    Henry VIII died in Jan. 1547 and shortly after, Katherine secretly married Thomas Seymour. She fell pregnant for the first time at the age of 36 and moved to Sudeley Castle to have her child. That August, she gave birth to a daughter named Mary. Soon after, Katherine fell ill with puerperal fever. On Sept. 5th, Katherine Parr died. 

    Each of these women played a significant role in shaping English history and their stories deserve to be remembered and celebrated. And they have. Today, many books and movies have been created, shining a spotlight on these six queens. A Broadway musical, “Six,” which gives these queens a voice, has also been running for nearly seven years now. 

    While often remembered as footnotes in the narrative of King Henry VIII’s reign, the six women that he married were more than just his wives. They were individuals with their own stories, victories, and struggles and should be remembered for so much more than a rhyme. To learn more about the six wives of Henry VIII and other important events and figures from Tudor history, visit

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    About the Contributor
    Lainey Vollmer
    Lainey Vollmer, Staff Writer

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