The Wives of Henry VIII


Henry VIII (1491-1547), who became king in 1509, is probably most famous for having six wives.  He is also known for separating from the Catholic Church and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536)


Catherine was first married to Henry VIII’s brother Arthur, who died five months after their wedding in 1501.  In 1509 she married Henry and they had a daughter, Mary, who would later become Queen Mary I.  This marriage lasted until 1533, when Henry, infatuated with Anne Boleyn and concerned about his marriage’s failure to produce any sons, ended up breaking from the Catholic Church in order to secure an annulment from Catherine, after it was refused by the Pope.  Catherine did not accept Henry as the head of the English church, or their annulment.  She died in 1536.


Anne Boleyn (1501-36)


Anne Boleyn worked as a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon and in 1526 Henry VIII began his attempts to seduce her.  She, however, refused to become his mistress and after his marriage to Catherine was annulled, Henry and Anne married in 1533.  Later that year she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I.  Like Catherine, she failed to produce a son and after several miscarriages, Henry became interested in Jane Seymour.  Anne was arrested for high treason, including incest and adultery, was found guilty and subsequently beheaded in 1536.


Jane Seymour (1508-37)


Eleven days after the execution of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour in 1536.  The following year Jane gave birth to what would be Henry’s only son, Edward, the future King Edward VI.  Jane experienced a long labour and became seriously ill after the birth.  Twelve days after Edward was born, Jane died of an infection.


Anne of Cleeves (1515-57)


Anne was born in Germany and her marriage to Henry was encouraged by Thomas Cromwell, his chancellor.  After being shown paintings of Anne, Henry agreed to the marriage, which was finalised in late 1539.  When he met Anne for the first time, Henry was disappointed that she did not appear as attractive as the paintings had suggested, but the marriage had to go ahead in order to avoid damaging the alliance with Germany.  The marriage only lasted from January 1540 until July that year, and was never consummated.  Anne and Henry later became good friends and she was referred to as ‘the King’s beloved sister.’ She died in 1557, the last of Henry’s wives to die, and was also the only one to be buried in Westminster Abbey.


Catherine Howard (approx. 1521-1542)


Catherine Howard was a lady-in-waiting of Anne of Cleeves and Henry quickly became attracted to her.  Three weeks after the annulment of his previous marriage in 1540, Henry and Catherine were married.  In 1541 she began an affair with Thomas Culpepper, one of Henry’s coutiers.  Later that year Henry was informed of accusations against his wife, but did not believe them to begin with.  After an investigation, the accusations were verified and Catherine was charged with treason.  She was then imprisoned and executed early the following year.


Catherine Parr (1512-48)


Catherine Parr was widowed in March 1543 and married Henry in July of that year.  Her interest in the Protestant faith caused suspicion and in 1536 an arrest warrant was made, although she found out about this and persuaded Henry not to allow the arrest to be made.  Henry died in 1547 and Catherine remarried later that year to a previous love interest and became pregnant the following year.  Six days after giving birth to a daughter Catherine died, most likely of the same condition that killed Jane Seymour.