Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) youngest daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and
Isabella of Castile, received a superlative Renaissance humanist education.  
Married to Arthur, Prince of Wales, Nov. 1501, she was widowed Apr. 1502, and
spent the next 7 years patiently waiting for her second marriage, often in dire
straits, but also as her father’s ambassador to Henry VII’s court.  Catherine married
Henry VIII (6 years her junior), in June 1509, since Pope Julius II had issued a
dispensation for Henry to marry his brother’s widow.  The marriage was initially
happy; during the first years of the reign, Catherine wielded influence over foreign
affairs, pursuing a pro-Spanish foreign policy, until her father’s treachery and
Wolsey’s ascendancy undercut her influence over the King.  Catherine’s inability to
bear a male heir also affected her initially close bond with Henry; after three
unsuccessful attempts, she gave birth to a daughter, (later MARY I) in 1516.  When
informed of Henry’s efforts to secure a divorce in 1527, Catherine revealed the
steely determination that lay behind her public persona as a dutiful and obedient
queen/wife, as she strenuously safeguarded the succession rights of her
daughter.  Henry left Catherine for good in 1531, while the marriage itself was
declared invalid in 1533.  While a popular queen, Catherine refused to take part in
any rebellion against her husband.  Catherine died at Kimbolton, Berks, Jan. 1536.

Anne Boleyn (1500/1501-1536) a member of the Howard family, was one of Queen
Catherine of Aragon's ladies in waiting.  In 1526 (after the king had a brief affair
with her sister Mary) Anne became Henry's mistress, although Anne refused to
consummate the relationship, as she held out for the ultimate prize of queenship.  
In 1532 Henry made Anne a noblewoman in her own right, as lady marquess of
Pembroke.  In Jan. 1533, Anne secretly married Henry, after conceiving a daughter
(later ELIZABETH I) born in Sept. 1533, after she had been crowned Queen.  As
Queen, Anne, in alliance with Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, worked for
the introduction of reformist publications and ideas into England.  The 1534 Act of
Succession vested the crown in Anne and Henry’s heirs, but in 1536, she gave
birth to a deformed fetus.  In April 1536, it was “revealed’ to the King that Anne had
committed treason, adultery, and incest!  Tried on May 16, 1536, she was tried and
convicted by a jury of her peers.  As a final act of kindness, Henry set for a
swordsman from St. Omer to take off her head in one clean swipe.

Jane Seymour (1507/08-1537) daughter of a Wiltshire knight, was one of Anne
Boleyn's ladies in waiting.  In May 1536 Jane married Henry VIII, 10 days after Anne
Boleyn's execution.  Henry’s first two queens had soured him on the idea of
marriage to a strong woman with her own agenda.  Silent, demur, and apparently
uninterested in politics, Jane was seemingly the perfect candidate to supply Henry
with a much needed burst of marital bliss, giving birth to a much longed for son
(later EDWARD VI) in Oct. 1537.  Unfortunately, Jane tragically died 12 days later
from complications of childbirth, after gorging herself on roasted quail.  Out of the
six wives, it is Jane’s pleasure to spend eternity next to Henry, in their tomb at the
Chapel of St. George, Windsor.

Anne of Cleves (1515-1557) was the sister of the Duke of Cleves, a Lutheran state
in Northwestern Germany.  In 1538, their catholic majesties Francis I of France and
Holy Roman Emperor Charles V achieved a brief peace, causing England to
search for Protestant allies.  Henry sent his court painter, Hans Holbein, to paint
Anne in 1539, while Cromwell arranged her betrothal to the King.  However, when
she arrived in England in Dec. 1539, Henry VIII declared "I like her not!"  Although
he went through with the marriage, Henry could not bring himself to consummate
it.  In 1540, Anne agreed to annulment, while Cromwell paid the ultimate price for
steering an unwilling king down the aisle.  For her cooperation, Henry gave Anne a
generous financial settlement.  Anne remained in England for the rest of her life,
enjoying her status as the "King's sister".  Anne was last seen at the coronation of
Mary I in 1553, glittering in her jewels.

Catherine Howard (1525-1542) was one Anne of Cleve's ladies in waiting.  The
niece of crypto-catholic Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, Catherine was only 16
when her uncle began parading her in front of a suitably impressed Henry VIII in
1541.  However, Norfolk was unaware of Catherine’s promiscuous pastimes, which
continued after she married the king.  Inevitably, Catherine’s indiscreet behavior
became known to the King’s privy council; Cranmer himself informed the King of his
queen’s indiscretions.  Henry was so emotionally overwhelmed by the revelation
that he delegated authority to Parliament to deal with her, which attainted and
beheaded Catherine and her accomplice, Lady Rochford, in 1542.  At the same
time, Parliament passed a statute making it treason for an unchaste woman to
marry the king or the heir to the throne!

Catherine Parr (1512-1548) twice widowed, married the now old, corpulent, and
grouchy Henry VIII in July 1543.  An educated and devout woman, as well as a
closet Protestant, Catherine was also charismatic, bringing the Tudor royal family
under one roof, no mean feat within a family whose dysfunctions were the by-
product of the English Reformation.  In particular, Catherine brought to Henry’s
attention tutors for Edward and Elizabeth of a decidedly reformist nature.  After
narrowly escaping prosecution for heresy, Catherine survived Henry’s death in
January 1547, and married Thomas Seymour, King Edward’s uncle, three months
later.  Unfortunately, Seymour’s attraction for the 14 year old Elizabeth, also
resident in the household, became a problem.  Elizabeth was sent away shortly
before Catherine gave birth to her only child, a daughter, born in Aug. 1548.  
Catherine died 8 days later from complications, while the fate of the daughter
remains a mystery.