DIVORCED, BEHEADED, DIED, DIVORCED, BEHEADED, SURVIVED
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
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
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
|SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII